Monday, January 28, 2013

Quantum Biology

I had mentioned already on the emerging connection between quantum mechanics and some aspects of biological phenomena (see here, here, and here). This BBC science article reviews the current effort to use quantum mechanics to explain some of the biological effects.

The most established of the three is photosynthesis - the staggeringly efficient process by which plants and some bacteria build the molecules they need, using energy from sunlight. It seems to use what is called "superposition" - being seemingly in more than one place at one time.

Watch the process closely enough and it appears there are little packets of energy simultaneously "trying" all of the possible paths to get where they need to go, and then settling on the most efficient.

You may read the other examples that they gave in that article. But what irked me slightly is what was mentioned near the beginning of the article.

Disappearing in one place and reappearing in another. Being in two places at once. Communicating information seemingly faster than the speed of light

This kind of weird behaviour is commonplace in dark, still laboratories studying the branch of physics called quantum mechanics, but what might it have to do with fresh flowers, migrating birds, and the smell of rotten eggs?
Until recently, the delicate states of matter predicted by quantum mechanics have only been accessed with the most careful experiments: isolated particles at blisteringly low temperatures or pressures approaching that of deep space. 

That is utterly false, because our modern electronics are the proof to counter that. QM isn't restricted to such esoteric conditions. QM is what is responsible for our iPhones, iPads, computers, MRI, electron microscopes, flat-panel TVs, PET scans, etc... etc. Sure, to be able to observe the "weird" behavior of QM, we will have to go to extremely difficult conditions, but the description of QM are directly used for many everyday items and process. After all, this is what the biologist here are trying to do as well, use the description of QM to explain observed, macroscopic biological phenomena.

BBC News science section needs to get rid of this myth quickly. It undermines the usefulness of QM.


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