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Insights into Photosynthetic Energy Transfer Gained from Free-Energy Structure: Coherent Transport, Incoherent Hopping, and Vibrational Assistance Revisited.

Abstract

Giant strides in ultrashort laser pulse technology have enabled real-time observation of dynamical processes in complex molecular systems. Specifically, the discovery of oscillatory transients in the two-dimensional electronic spectra of photosynthetic systems stimulated a number of theoretical investigations exploring the possible physical mechanisms of the remarkable quantum efficiency of light harvesting processes. In this work, we revisit the elementary aspects of environment-induced fluctuations in the involved electronic energies and present a simple way to understand energy flow with the intuitive picture of relaxation in a funnel-type free-energy landscape. The presented free-energy description of energy transfer reveals that typical photosynthetic systems operate in an almost barrierless regime. The approach also provides insights into the distinction between coherent and incoherent energy transfer and the criteria by which the necessity of the vibrational assistance is considered.

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