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BBC News - Plants 'seen doing quantum physics'

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Quantum biology is becoming more real:

The idea that plants make use of quantum physics to harvest light more efficiently has received a boost.

Plants gather packets of light called photons, shuttling them deep into their cells where their energy is converted with extraordinary efficiency.

report in Science journal adds weight to the idea that an effect called a "coherence" helps determine the most efficient path for the photons.

Experts have called the work "a nice proof" of some contentious ideas.

Prior work has shown weaker evidence that these coherences existed in relatively large samples from plants.

But the new study has been done painstakingly, aiming lasers at single molecules of the light-harvesting machinery to show how light is funnelled to the so-called reaction centres within plants where light energy is converted into chemical energy.

What has surprised even the researchers behind the research is not only that these coherences do indeed exist, but that they also seem to change character, always permitting photons to take the most efficient path into the reaction centres.

Some useful quantum notions from the article:

Quantum mechanics starts with the simple idea that energy does not come in just any amount; it comes in discrete chunks, called quanta. But deeper into the theory, some truly surprising - and useful - effects crop up

  • Superposition: A particle exists in a number of possible states or locations simultaneously - strictly, an electron might be in the tip of your finger and in the furthest corner of the Universe at the same time. It is only when we observe the particle that it 'chooses' one particular state
  • Entanglement: Two particles can become entangled so that their properties depend on each other - no matter how far apart they get. A measurement of one seems to affect the measurement of the other instantaneously - an idea even Einstein called "spooky"
  • Tunnelling: A particle can break through an energy barrier, seeming to disappear on one side of it and reappear on the other. Lots of modern electronics and imaging depends on this effect

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