Biology, Computation, Math Modeling, Teaching

Modeling demo: photosynthesis

This demo is intended to help students understand the connection between photosynthetic pigment function, light energy, and plant growth. The relative absorption of 8 wavelength ranges can be modified to represent an absorption spectra. These absorption spectra could be simplified to include one or two specific colors, or approximate an absorption spectra obtained in lab.


A bar plot with the appropriate color is shown to illustrate the relative absorption of the different colors. Students can then select the wavelength of light that is being provided to the growing plants. The equation describing the relationship between the energy of light and its color are provided to reinforce the inverse relationship.

Students can select the amount of CO2 provided. This allows students to see that under high levels of photosynthesis the amount of CO2 may be exhausted. This provides two mechanisms by which plant growth might be limited – the wavelength of light and the absorption of the pigments, and the available CO2. The underlying model simulates the relative relationship between the growth rate and the available CO2.

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