Homepage Raoul Frese  last update: April 2011, under development


Assistant Professor (Tenure Track, Universitair Docent)
Faculty of Sciences/Faculteit der Exacte Wetenschappen (FEW)
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Sections:  Physics of Energy, Physics of Life and Health/Elementary Events in Biophysics
Expertise: biophysics, supramolecular photosynthesis, light spectroscopy, atomic force microscopy, bionanotechnology.
Email: r.n.frese at vu.nl
Phone: +31-(0)20-598-7263
Address: De Boelelaan 1081, 1081 HV Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Room T1.28

Current tasks at Faculty of Sciences (FEW) and Faculty of Life Sciences (FALW)

Co-promotor PhD students:

(Co-) Supervisor students

Current networks and funding

My research in pictures, movies and models

      Description: RCs on surfaceresize

Left to right: 
Me and co-workers were the first to obtain a high resolution image of a multicomponent biological membrane. We could generalise and select the correct AFM image from ensemble polarized spectroscopy measurements on intact membranes. Similar studies on mutants lacking one or two protein components lead to a detailed description of the supramolecular organization and packing effects within these membranes. That work lead to a general thermodynamic description of protein domain formation. Simulations based on colloidal theory show how membrane curvature is dependent on domain formation and how diffusive networks can be generated under packed conditions. Our control of photosynthetic membranes now extends beyond the cell, we can adhere membranes onto conducting surfaces and probe primary photoconversion reactions and cycle currents.


Selected publications:

The long range supra-organisation of the bacterial photosynthetic unit: a key role for PufX;  Raoul N. Frese, John D. Olsen, Rikard Branvall, Willem H. J. Westerhuis, C. Neil Hunter and Rienk van Grondelle. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci USA 97, (2000), p. 5197-5202.
Electric field effects on the chlorophylls, pheophytins and b-carotenes and in the reaction center of photosystem II; Raoul N. Frese, Marta Germano, Frank L. de Weerd, Ivo H. M. van Stokkum, Anatoli Ya. Shkuropatov, Vladimir A. Shuvalov, Hans J. van Gorkom, Rienk van Grondelle and Jan P. Dekker; Biochemistry 42, (2003); p.9205-9213.
The native architecture of a photosynthetic membrane;  Svetlana Bahatyrova*, Raoul N. Frese*, C. Alistair Siebert, John D. Olsen, Kees van der Werf, Rienk van Grondelle, Robert Niedermann, Per A. Bullough, Cees Otto and Neil C. Hunter; Nature 430, 1058-1062, (2004).
The long-range organisation of a photosynthetic membrane;  Raoul N. Frese, C. Alistair Siebert, Robert A. Niederman, C. Neil Hunter, C. Otto and Rienk van Grondelle; Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101 (52), (2004), p. 17994-17999.
Protein shape and crowding drive domain formation and curvature in biological membranes;  Raoul N. Frese, Josep C. Pàmies, John D. Olsen, Svetlana Bahatyrova, Chantal D. de Wit, Thijs Aartsma, Cees Otto, C. Neil Hunter, Daan Frenkel and Rienk van Grondelle; Biophysical Journal 94: 640-647, (2008)
Light harvesting, energy transfer and electron cycling of native photosynthetic assemblies on a gold-electrode;  Gerhard J. Magis, Mart-Jan den Hollander, John D. Olsen, Neil C. Hunter, Thijs J. Aartsma and Raoul N. Frese; Biochem. Biophys. Acta-Biomembranes 1798, (2010); p.637-645.

Research statement

Every 90 minutes, the sun radiates an amount of energy equal to the annual consumption of the world population. By the process of photosynthesis, plants, algae and certain bacterial species have mastered the direct utilisation of this energy to power their metabolism. Now we must learn from the natural process to utilise solar energy to produce biosolar fuels and more food for a growing world population. Decades of photosynthesis research has resulted in a wealth of knowledge on individual photosynthetic protein complexes. My research focuses on how the different components work together in photosynthetic membranes and other assemblies. Utilising atomic force microscopy, fluorescence spectroscopy and light-induced electrochemistry the supramolecular structures and dynamics are being assessed. By doing this, we gain detailed knowledge on the molecular basis of functioning of proteins within a network; most importantly this research leads to a targeted approach towards improved natural and artificial photosynthesis.

Major questions I address are:
How can we maintain the intrinsic properties of biology such as optimisation, self-assembly, self-repair durability and flexibility within an artificial device?
Specifically, can we engineer natural proteins for technological applications while integrated within the natural support system?
What supramolecular assemblies will lead to optimal energy-conversion efficiency?
Can we predict favourable designs from the constituent building blocks?

And the key-objectives of my research are:

Establish the design principles for natural and artificial photosynthetic systems to optimise conversion efficiencies.
Goal: to visualise and quantify the functionality of supramolecular assemblies.
Approach: implement novel single/few-molecule fluorescence techniques to functionally describe and quantitatively compare natural systems and artificial designs.
Techniques: atomic force microscopy, light-induced current voltammetry, single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy, stimulated emission depletion microscopy.
Impact: a fundamental description of energy conversion yields of, and dynamics within, supported-assemblies.

Integrating assemblies, solid supports and electrodes
Goal: interconnect conducting electrodes onto novel biological assemblies.
Approach: engineer proteins to induce the stacking of membranes, create new assemblies and interface protein-complexes with thin  conducting films.
Techniques: surface chemistry, 2D-protein crystallization, plasmonics. Impact: functional bio-photovoltaic or solar-hydrogen cell and bio-electronic devices as template for biosensors, solar-to-fuel cells, lab-on-a-chip, etc.

My research involves the interconnection of photosynthetic and other biological complexes and surfaces. Methodologies are directed towards photovoltaic and photohydrogen energy production. But at the same time, we investigate fundamental biological processes within membranes: diffusion under crowding, packing effects, phase transitions, energy and electron transfers. These investigations converge into a description of supramolecular, biological energy conversion and bio-solar renewable energy resources.

There are several factors that makes photosynthetic material paradigm for molecular and cellular biophysics and biotechnology sciences. The embedded chromophores are maintained in an exact geometry by the surrounding proteins allowing a multitude of detailed spectroscopic and microscopic investigations. Interpretation of data is strongly aided by detailed models of the 3D-structures and high-resolution atomic force microscopy images. Besides, for the electron transferring protein-complexes, the same chromophores are also redox active and can therefore be probed and manipulated by redox chemistry, surface plasmons and externally applied electric fields. Most importantly, many different species allow genetic engineering, with retained photosynthesis. Proteins can be engineered for covalent binding to surfaces, to induce or reduce curvature of the membrane or membrane stacking, to bind different chromophores or to control energy dissipation to name few of the possibilities.