The efficient, directional transfer of absorbed solar energy between photosynthetic light-harvesting complexes continues to pose intriguing questions. We have identified the mechanistic pathways of energy flow between the B800 and B850 rings in the LH2 complex of Rhodospirillum molischianum using fully quantum mechanical path integral methods to simulate the excited-state dynamics of the 24 bacteriochlorophyll molecules and their coupling to 50 normal mode vibrations in each chromophore. While all pigments are identical, the tighter packing of the inner B850 ring is responsible for the thermodynamic stabilization of the inner ring. Molecular vibrations enable the 1-ps flow of energy to the B850 states, which would otherwise be kinetically inaccessible.
A classical treatment of the vibrations leads to uniform equilibrium distribution of the excitation, with only 2/3 transferred to the inner ring. However, spontaneous fluctuations associated with the quantum motion of the nuclei increase the transfer efficiency to 90%.