Quantum physicists in the 1920s helped found field of quantum biology

There is some evidence that quantum effects might play a role in the process of photosynthesis.

Enlarge / There is some
evidence that quantum effects might play a role in the process of
photosynthesis. (credit: Mikel Bilbao/VW Pic/Getty Images)

In 1944, quantum physicist Erwin Schroedinger wrote a short book
called What is Life: The Physical Aspect of the Living
Cell, exploring how the relatively new field of quantum mechanics
might play a role in biological processes. It is considered by many
to be one of the earliest forays into “quantum biology,” a rarefied
field that attempts to apply quantum principles to living systems.
But the field actually dates back to the earliest days of quantum
mechanics in the 1920s, according to
a recent paper
published in the Proceedings of the Royal
Society A.

“Quantum biology is wrongly regarded as a very new scientific
discipline, when it actually began before the Second World War,”
said co-author
Johnjoe McFadden
, a microbiologist at the University of Surrey
and co-director of the Centre for Quantum Biology there, with his
Surrey colleague and co-author Jim Al-Khalili. “Back then, a few
quantum physicists tried to understand what was special about life
itself and whether quantum mechanics might shed any light on the
matter.”

Frankly, quantum biology has suffered from a lack of credibility
until the last decade or so, when a number of intriguing studies
suggested that there might be something to the idea after all. For
instance, there is growing evidence that
photosynthesis relies
on quantum effects to help plants turn sunlight
into fuel.  Migratory birds might have an internal “quantum compass”
that helps them sense Earth’s magnetic fields as a means of
navigation. Quantum effects might
play
a role in the human sense
of smell
, helping us distinguish between different scents.

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Source: FS – All – Science – News
Quantum physicists in the 1920s helped found field of quantum biology