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Surprising Science

The Birth of Quantum Biology

Discoveries in recent years suggest that nature knows a few tricks that physicists don’t: Coherent quantum processes may well be ubiquitous in the natural world.

What’s the Latest Development?

Once thought to be too ordered to exist in the biological realm, now scientists are starting to find hints of quantum behavior on scales as large as biological reactions. “Known or suspected examples range from the ability of birds to navigate using Earth’s magnetic field to the inner workings of photosynthesis. … Researchers have long suspected that something unusual is afoot in photosynthesis. … Since the 1930s, scientists have recognized that this journey must be described by quantum mechanics, which holds that particles such as electrons will often act like waves.”

What’s the Big Idea?

When it comes to investigating how birds use Earth’s magnetic field to navigate, Simon Benjamin, a physicist at the University of Oxford, U.K. says: “If we can figure out how the bird’s compass protects itself from decoherence, this might just give us a few clues in the quest to create quantum technologies.” Learning from nature is an idea as old as mythology—but until now, no one has imagined that the natural world has anything to teach us about the quantum world. 


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