Nanyang Technological University

Planting possibilities:
Professor James Barber


At the heart of Prof James Barber’s efforts in plant biochemistry is the magic of nature in a leaf.

The Ernst Chain Professor of Biochemistry at Imperial College London is a Nanyang Visiting Professor at NTU’s School of Materials Science & Engineering and scientific advisor at NTU’s Solar Fuels Laboratory, where he works with a team to build an “artificial leaf” that can split water into hydrogen and oxygen with solar energy.

The hydrogen produced can then be used as an alternative energy source to fossil fuels.

Prof Barber is excited about the potential of the lab’s programmes to revolutionise solutions to the world’s energy problems.

“The need to exploit solar energy on a large scale as a renewable energy source is well-recognised worldwide,” says Prof Barber, a world-renowned biochemist who has built up an illustrious career spanning decades of devoted investigation on photosynthesis and the functional role of photosystems.

“This challenge of sustaining the energy demands of the human race is too massive to rely on one group alone,” he adds.

Drawn to the possibilities of the Solar Fuels Laboratory to bring new ideas and discourse to this grand challenge of finding a sustainable source of energy, he hopes to share his expertise and enthusiasm with research groups here, as well as to connect them with other groups around the world.

The lab – a first in Asia – was opened in February 2011 with the objective of developing solar-driven technology that is commercially viable.

Prof Barber has been an elected member of the European Academy (Academia Europaea) since 1989. He was Dean of the Royal College of Science at Imperial College London and head of its Biochemistry Department for a decade from 1989 to 1999. Throughout the course of his work, he has also published over 600 original research papers and edited 17 specialised books in the field of plant biochemistry. He served as President of the International Society of Photosynthesis Research from 2007 to 2010.

His achievements have been recognised globally through awards such as the prestigious Flintoff Medal (2002) by the Royal Society of Chemistry, Italgas Prize for Energy and the Environment (2005), Biochemical Society Novartis medal and prize (2006) and the Wheland Medal and Prize from the University of Chicago (2007).

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