By hitting single molecules with quadrillionth-of-a-second laser pulses, scientists have revealed the quantum physics underlying photosynthesis, the process used by plants and bacteria to capture lights energy at efficiencies unapproached by human engineers.
The quantum wizardry appears to occur in each of a photosynthetic cells millions of antenna proteins. These route energy from electrons spinning in photon-sensitive molecules to nearby reaction-center proteins, which convert it to cell-driving charges.
Almost no energy is lost in between. Thats because it exists in multiple places at once, and always finds the shortest path.
The analogy I like is if you have three ways of driving home through rush hour traffic. On any given day, you take only one. You dont know if the other routes would be quicker or slower. But in quantum mechanics, you can take all three of these routes simultaneously. You dont specify where you are until you arrive, so you always choose the quickest route, said Greg Scholes, a University of Toronto biophysicist.
According to Scholes, the physics of photosynthetic proteins will be further studied and used to improve solar cell design. Engel suggested their use in long-promised but still-unworkable quantum computing. This allows us to think about photosynthesis as non-unitary quantum computation, he said.
Quantum-physical processes have been observed elsewhere in the biological realm, most notably in compass cells that allow birds to navigate by Earths geomagnetic fields. Researchers have also proposed roles for quantum physics in the animal sense of smell and even in the brain. Engel predicts the emergence of an entire field of quantum biology.
There are going to be some surprises, said Scholes. Who knows what else there is to discover?
How cool is that? Plants are just fascinating, using quantum mechanics to transmit energy with almost no loss. I think humans, at are best, can manage 33% efficiency rate in transmitting energy? That's why we need all those transformers.