Xiaolin Liu calls porphyrins “the colors of life” because they’re brightly colored and the molecular motif shows up in some very important biomolecules. A porphyrin is the backbone of the heme that binds oxygen in red blood cells, for example. In her work as a postdoc in the Moore group at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Liu makes porphyrin derivatives in the lab and studies their ability to conduct electricity. She took this photo of an emulsion that formed while she was trying to perform an extraction procedure on a porphyrin that she’d made that included both hydrophilic and hydrophobic parts. The water-loving and water-averse segments of the molecule caused it to behave as a surfactant. What resulted was not a clean extraction with distinct layers but an emulsion with large, emerald-colored bubbles reminiscent of plant cells, whose photosynthesis relies on another porphyrin-based molecule: chlorophyll.
Submitted by Xiaolin Liu
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