Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Spooky World Of Quantum Biology
This is just too cool not to spread around. And since the article mentions solar cells, I think it's marginally eligible for inclusion here.

The Spooky World Of Quantum Biology

Quantum computation, a science still in its infancy, promises swiftness and efficiency vastly superior to anything possible with conventional silicon chips. Rather than relying on binary bits like contemporary systems, quantum computers use “qubits” that include all possible superpositions of a particle’s classical state. Instead of being “trapped” in a single configuration, the logic gates of a quantum computer employ multiple possibilities in synchrony -- using the entire set of alternative outcomes to arrive at an answer.

It’s a promising avenue for people with big plans for strong AI or virtual reality. The only complication is that coherence -- in which the many possible states of a particle or group of particles stay hung in superposition -- is something scientists have only been able to study under extremely controlled conditions. It’s only possible when that system doesn’t interact with anything else that might “collapse the wave function,” and so most of the major options for quantum computing involve impractical scenarios like creating a supercooled vacuum.

This is one of the reasons that many scientists have considered quantum biology both unlikely and unscientific. The thermal noise of biological systems seemed too great to allow for quantum weirdness; and even if it could, how on Earth would we study it? But science is the story of ingenuity’s victory over shortsightedness -- and one research team, led by Gregory S. Engel at UC Berkeley, has devised a way to directly detect and observe quantum-level processes within a cell using high-speed lasers.

They were trying to establish exactly how organic photosynthesis approaches 95% efficiency, whereas the most sophisticated human solar cells operate at only half that. What they discovered is nothing short of remarkable. Using femtosecond lasers to follow the movement of light energy through a photosynthetic bacterial cell, Engel et al. observed the energy traveling along every possible direction at the same time. Instead of following a single trajectory like the electrons on a silicon chip, the energy in photosynthesis explores all of its options and collapses the quantum process only after the fact, retroactively “deciding” upon the most efficient pathway. (My emphasis)

More at the link.

To quote J.B.S. Haldane, "The Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."

1. And with our "one shot" thinking, we fell entire forests ('it'll all grow back'),
destroy fisheries and water quality and numerous "unimportant" species, pollute ecosystems with "one shot" pesticides and other gunk that we invent for ONE purpose, ignoring all other possibilities--most of them destructive--and proceed like silicon chips to decimate the web of life upon which we and everything else depends, by viewing Nature as merely a 'gold mine' from which corporate PR departments lie that we can extract single, high profit products, without ripping the web of life to shreds. I have great admiration for human cleverness--it gives me hope; and I think trade and "the marketplace" are a human need. But our conglomeration into corporate entities that live forever, accumulating vast wealth and power, will be the end of Nature and our own demise, if we do not beef up our national governments and our own democratic power to rein them in. We need to be like the photosynthesis cell, and explore every conceivable pathway to this end. And we need to do it yesterday.

3. This is what they're referring to
From CERN:

Efficiency of photosynthesis depends on quantum coherence

Photosynthesis is an amazingly efficient process, capturing 95% or more of the light energy that hits a leaf. Now a study led by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley reveals at least part of how this is done. The trick, revealed by beat patterns in two-dimensional Fourier transform spectroscopy of a bacteriochlorophyll, seems to be that incoming light causes coherent excitation of many different states simultaneously in superposition. This then allows a very efficient search of the various possible reaction complexes into which the energy could be delivered.

The discovery hinged on the two-dimensional electronic-spectroscopy technique developed by the group, which is led by Graham Fleming at Berkeley. This enables the researchers to follow the light-induced excitation energy at it passes through molecular complexes, with a time resolution of femtoseconds. It involves flashing a sample sequentially with femtosecond pulses of light from three laser beams, with a fourth beam to amplify and detect the resulting spectroscopic signals.

The finding contradicts the classical description of the photosynthetic energy transfer process as one in which excitation energy moves step-by-step down the molecular energy ladder from pigment molecules to reaction centres. Instead, the process seems to depend on quantum coherence, which is also what underlies quantum computing. Further research into this effect could lead to a better understanding of how life uses quantum mechanics, and perhaps could also lead to new ways of making solar cells.
About the author

Compiled by Steve Reucroft and John Swain, Northeastern University.

7. Thanks for mentioning the "spooky' thing. I was gonna, but got off on another subject.
By calling it "spooky," they promote the kind of superstition that makes it oh-so-easy for corporate PR departments to manipulate public opinion on environmental issues, for instance, coining a brainwashing phrase like "trees, the renewable resource." But the intricate web of life that comprises the ecosystem in which high value trees grow is NOT "renewable" once they have driven key species to extinction. They can grow crap trees for wood chips, maybe. But the dense forest and rich ecosystem that is so vital for the health and continuance of the earth's biosphere is gone, along with high value older trees and the conditions that created them. Corporate logging has led to the extirpation of numerous forest species, including species that we never got to know much about--fungi and bacteria that interacted with everything else. That web of life is irrecoverable, and the trees it grew will never grow again in the same way.

The elaborately balanced, intricate web of species in a natural system is not "spooky." It is REALITY. It is how things are. It is how WE are--as individuals. It is how everything works. We sometimes think of it as a "mystery" because we don't understand the million filaments of the web and how they interact. I think "mystery" is an okay word, re Nature, because it implies respect. But "spooky" implies fear. Neither quantum physics nor quantum biology is "scary." It is merely the best description of certain phenomena that we have. Those phenomena may be quite surprising. They are not "spooky."

No comments: