Who Absorbs Light Energy?

Light energy is electromagnetic radiation within a specific wavelength range visible to the human eye. The absorption of light energy refers to the process by which particles take in and capture photons of light. When light shines on an object, the object’s atoms and molecules absorb photons of light at varying wavelengths and frequencies, giving the object color and allowing it to be seen. The absorbed light energy can drive chemical reactions or be converted into heat or electricity.

This article will explore the various organisms and objects that are capable of absorbing light energy. Key sections will cover photosynthetic organisms like plants, algae, and some bacteria that use absorbed light for photosynthesis. We’ll also discuss how solar panels, black objects, and animal eyes absorb light. By the end, you’ll have a broad understanding of light absorption across the natural world.


Plants absorb light energy through the process of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis converts light energy into chemical energy that plants can use. It takes place in plant cells that contain chlorophyll.

Chlorophyll is a green pigment found in plants and algae. It absorbs certain wavelengths of visible light, particularly blue and red light. When chlorophyll absorbs light, it excites electrons to a higher energy level. These excited electrons are transported through an electron transport chain, which uses their energy to power chemical reactions.

plants absorb light energy through photosynthesis

One of the main chemical reactions of photosynthesis is the conversion of carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen. This reaction requires energy, which comes from the excited electrons. The end result is that light energy gets converted into chemical energy stored in glucose molecules. The plant can then use this chemical energy to power cellular processes and growth.

So in summary, plants absorb light photons through chlorophyll pigments. This transfers the photon’s energy to electrons, which get transported to power photosynthetic chemical reactions. Through these reactions, the light energy gets converted and stored as chemical energy that the plant can utilize.


Algae are photosynthetic organisms that live in aquatic environments like oceans, lakes, and ponds. Like plants, algae contain chlorophyll and undergo photosynthesis to convert light energy from the sun into chemical energy that fuels their growth and survival.

During photosynthesis, algae absorb light energy using chlorophyll and other photosynthetic pigments in their cells. The chlorophyll absorbs certain wavelengths of light and uses that energy to power reactions that convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose sugars that algae use for food. Oxygen is released as a byproduct.

Algae come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. But they all contain chlorophyll a, the primary photosynthetic pigment found in plants. Some algae also contain accessory pigments like chlorophyll b and carotenoids which aid in capturing light energy.

Algae are incredibly efficient at absorbing sunlight due to their simple cellular structure. Some of their photosynthetic proteins are arranged to quickly respond to and utilize light. Their high surface area compared to their small size also maximizes light absorption.

In aquatic ecosystems, algae form the foundation of the food web by converting the sun’s energy into biochemical energy through photosynthesis. Their ability to capture light energy sustains all higher lifeforms that depend on algae for food and oxygen.


Certain bacteria, known as phototrophic bacteria, are able to absorb light energy through photosynthesis. Similar to plants, phototrophic bacteria contain photosynthetic pigments like bacteriochlorophyll that capture light. Bacteriochlorophyll functions like the chlorophyll pigments in plants. When bacteriochlorophyll absorbs light energy, it excites electrons which drives ATP synthesis and powers the bacteria’s metabolism. Unlike plants however, phototrophic bacteria do not produce oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. There are several types of phototrophic bacteria differentiated by the color of their photosynthetic pigments which allow them to absorb different wavelengths of light. For example, green sulfur bacteria contain bacteriochlorophyll-c, d, or e which absorbs infrared light.

Fungi That Absorb Light

Certain species of fungi have the remarkable ability to absorb light energy and emit it as bioluminescent light. This process relies on specific proteins within the fungal cells called luciferases. When the fungi absorb light, usually through blue wavelengths, the luciferases become excited. As they return to their normal state, the excess energy is emitted as visible light.

The most well-known bioluminescent fungi are from the genera Armillaria and Mycena. Species such as Armillaria mellea (honey fungus) and Mycena chlorophos glow with an eerie green light in the dark. The luciferase enzymes in these fungi contain a pigment called luciferin, which reacts when the enzyme is excited by light energy. This chemical reaction is highly efficient, converting up to 80-90% of absorbed light into luminescent light emission.

Bioluminescent fungi often grow on decaying wood in forests. Their glow helps attract insects and animals to spread their spores. The light emission is thought to be a warning signal about the fungi’s toxicity, as they can be poisonous to potential predators. Overall, the ability to convert light to light shows the remarkable capacity of certain fungi to capture and re-emit energy from their environments.


Certain animals like coral, jellyfish, and squid have unique proteins called photoproteins that allow them to absorb light energy from their environment. Photoproteins contain a light-sensitive molecule called a chromophore that undergoes a chemical reaction when it absorbs light, resulting in a bioluminescent glow.

In coral, the photoprotein aequorin interacts with calcium ions when exposed to blue light to produce a greenish-blue glow. This bioluminescence may help coral reproduce, deter predators, or attract food.

Jellyfish use the photoprotein green fluorescent protein (GFP) to absorb blue light and re-emit it as green light. This gives certain jellyfish species their fluorescent glow and may help with functions like camouflage, attracting prey, or mating displays.

In squid, the photoprotein cytotoxin absorbs blue light and produces an orange-red glow. This bioluminescence is thought to be used for counter-illumination camouflage to match the color of sunlight filtering down through the ocean water above them.

So through specialized photoproteins that absorb light energy and convert it into a glow, these animals are able to utilize light from their environment for essential functions.


Humans absorb light energy through our skin and eyes. When sunlight hits our skin, the light energy is absorbed by molecules in our skin cells. This light energy excites the molecules and fuels processes like vitamin D production.

Our eyes also absorb light energy. Light enters our eyes through the cornea and pupil. It then passes through the lens which focuses it onto the retina at the back of our eye. The retina contains light-sensitive receptor cells called rods and cones. When light hits these cells, it initiates a series of chemical reactions that generate nerve signals. These signals travel to the visual cortex in the brain, allowing us to see.

Specifically, the light energy causes the retinal molecule in the receptor cells to change shape. This triggers an electrical signal that travels down the optic nerve to the visual cortex. Here, the signals are processed into the images we see. So humans absorb light through skin and retinal cells, converting the light energy into chemical, electrical, and nerve signals that facilitate vision and vitamin D synthesis.

Solar Panels

Solar panels are devices that absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity. This process takes advantage of the photovoltaic effect, which allows certain materials to convert photons from sunlight directly into an electric current.

Solar panels are made up of many individual solar cells, which are typically made from pure silicon wafers. When sunlight hits these cells, the photons are absorbed by the silicon atoms, transferring their energy and knocking electrons loose. The electrons diffuse into an electric field within the cell, generating an electrical current. Metal conductive plates on the cell collect the electrons and transfer them to wiring, allowing us to harness the electricity.

The photovoltaic effect occurs because silicon in its pure form has the ideal band gap energy to absorb photons from the visible light spectrum of sunlight. Photons with enough energy – usually in the ultraviolet, visible, and infrared ranges – can excite electrons in the silicon to jump across the band gap from the valence band to the conduction band. This creates mobile electron-hole pairs that can conduct electricity.

The silicon wafer is doped with other elements like phosphorus or boron to create the internal electric field and positive-negative semiconductor junction needed. The electricity generated flows from the p-type side to the n-type side, where metal conductive plates collect the electrons for external use before they recombine with the holes.

By connecting many solar cells together into solar panels and arrays, enough electricity can be produced to power devices, vehicles, homes, and more. Solar power provides a renewable and sustainable energy source by utilizing the limitless power of the sun.

Black Objects Absorb Light Energy

Black objects appear dark because they absorb most visible light that hits them, rather than reflecting it. This is due to a phenomenon called photon absorption. When light, which consists of tiny particles called photons, strikes an object, some of those photons get absorbed while others bounce off. The more photons an object absorbs, the darker it appears.

The reason black objects absorb so many photons is because of their unique molecular structure. Substances that appear black contain tightly packed molecules that can accept and hold onto photons rather than bounce them away. In contrast, white objects have more spread out molecules that reflect photons in all directions.

As black surfaces absorb photons, the energy is converted into heat through a process called thermalization. This is why black objects often feel warmer – the absorbed light energy is transformed into thermal energy that we perceive as heat. This effect can be clearly observed on a sunny day – black pavement gets much hotter than light pavement because it absorbs more solar photon energy.

So in summary, the molecular structure of black surfaces allows them to absorb photons efficiently and convert that light energy into heat. This gives black objects their distinctive color and warmth. Understanding photon absorption provides insight into why certain materials appear and feel the way they do.


Light energy is absorbed by a wide variety of organisms and objects to serve different purposes. As we’ve discussed, plants, algae, bacteria, and fungi all use light energy for photosynthesis. Animals, including humans, absorb light through their eyes to see. Inanimate objects like solar panels and black surfaces readily absorb light and convert it to heat or electricity. The key takeaway is that light energy is a vital source of energy for many living organisms as well as useful for power generation. Through evolution, nature has developed diverse and ingenious ways to capture photons from sunlight and utilize their energy. By understanding the science of light absorption, we gain a deeper appreciation of how life and technology harness this abundant energy source.

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