Abstract

This study aims to answer the question of whether spherical unicellular photoautotrophic eukaryotic microalgae cells, consisting of various intracellular compartments with their respective optical properties, can be modeled as homogeneous spheres with some effective complex index of refraction. The spectral radiation characteristics in the photosynthetically active region of a spherical heterogeneous microalgae cell, representative of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and consisting of spherical compartments corresponding to the cell wall, cytoplasm, chloroplast, nucleus, and mitochondria, were estimated using the superposition T-matrix method. The effects of the presence of intracellular lipids and/or starch accumulation caused by stresses, such as nitrogen limitation, were explored. Predictions by the T-matrix method were qualitatively and quantitatively consistent with experimental measurements for various microalgae species. The volume-equivalent homogeneous sphere approximation with volume-averaged effective complex index of refraction gave accurate estimates of the spectral (i) absorption and (ii) scattering cross sections of the heterogeneous cells under both nitrogen-replete and nitrogen-limited conditions. In addition, the effect of a strongly refracting cell wall, representative of Chlorella vulgaris, was investigated. In this case, for the purpose of predicting their integral radiation characteristics, the microalgae should be represented as a coated sphere with a coating corresponding to the cell wall and a homogeneous core with volume-averaged complex index of refraction for the rest of the cell. However, both homogeneous sphere and coated sphere approximations predicted strong resonances in the scattering phase function and spectral backscattering cross section that were not observed in that of the heterogeneous cells.

© 2016 Optical Society of America

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