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Press Release 08-071

Research Team Is First to Model Photochemical Compass for Bird Navigation

International study elucidates the relationship between migratory birds, light and Earth's magnetic field

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Text and illustrations: bird navigation chemical model.

An international team of researchers are the first to demonstrate that a synthesized photochemical molecule composed of linked carotenoid (C), porphyrin (P) and fullerene (F) units can act as a magnetic compass. When excited with light, CPF forms a short-lived charge-separated state with a negative charge on the ball-like fullerene unit and a positive charge on the rod-like carotenoid unit. The lifetime of the charge-separated state before it returns to its lowest energy or ground state is sensitive to the magnitude and direction of a weak magnetic field similar to Earth's.

Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation


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