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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-21-09 01:57 PM
Original message
The Spooky World Of Quantum Biology
This is just too cool not to spread around. And since the article mentions solar cells, I think it's marginally eligible for inclusion here.

The Spooky World Of Quantum Biology

Quantum computation, a science still in its infancy, promises swiftness and efficiency vastly superior to anything possible with conventional silicon chips. Rather than relying on binary bits like contemporary systems, quantum computers use qubits that include all possible superpositions of a particles classical state. Instead of being trapped in a single configuration, the logic gates of a quantum computer employ multiple possibilities in synchrony -- using the entire set of alternative outcomes to arrive at an answer.

Its a promising avenue for people with big plans for strong AI or virtual reality. The only complication is that coherence -- in which the many possible states of a particle or group of particles stay hung in superposition -- is something scientists have only been able to study under extremely controlled conditions. Its only possible when that system doesnt interact with anything else that might collapse the wave function, and so most of the major options for quantum computing involve impractical scenarios like creating a supercooled vacuum.

This is one of the reasons that many scientists have considered quantum biology both unlikely and unscientific. The thermal noise of biological systems seemed too great to allow for quantum weirdness; and even if it could, how on Earth would we study it? But science is the story of ingenuitys victory over shortsightedness -- and one research team, led by Gregory S. Engel at UC Berkeley, has devised a way to directly detect and observe quantum-level processes within a cell using high-speed lasers.

They were trying to establish exactly how organic photosynthesis approaches 95% efficiency, whereas the most sophisticated human solar cells operate at only half that. What they discovered is nothing short of remarkable. Using femtosecond lasers to follow the movement of light energy through a photosynthetic bacterial cell, Engel et al. observed the energy traveling along every possible direction at the same time. Instead of following a single trajectory like the electrons on a silicon chip, the energy in photosynthesis explores all of its options and collapses the quantum process only after the fact, retroactively deciding upon the most efficient pathway. (My emphasis)

More at the link.

To quote J.B.S. Haldane, "The Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."
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Peace Patriot Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-21-09 02:29 PM
Response to Original message
1. And with our "one shot" thinking, we fell entire forests ('it'll all grow back'),
destroy fisheries and water quality and numerous "unimportant" species, pollute ecosystems with "one shot" pesticides and other gunk that we invent for ONE purpose, ignoring all other possibilities--most of them destructive--and proceed like silicon chips to decimate the web of life upon which we and everything else depends, by viewing Nature as merely a 'gold mine' from which corporate PR departments lie that we can extract single, high profit products, without ripping the web of life to shreds. I have great admiration for human cleverness--it gives me hope; and I think trade and "the marketplace" are a human need. But our conglomeration into corporate entities that live forever, accumulating vast wealth and power, will be the end of Nature and our own demise, if we do not beef up our national governments and our own democratic power to rein them in. We need to be like the photosynthesis cell, and explore every conceivable pathway to this end. And we need to do it yesterday.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-21-09 04:10 PM
Response to Reply #1
4. What if it's too late to rein them in?
Edited on Wed Oct-21-09 04:11 PM by GliderGuider
The system is already so vastly out of balance it would be like sending all the passengers to the stern of the Titanic in the hope of lifting its sinking bow out of the water.

We do indeed need to explore every conceivable pathway, but aspects of our wave function have already collapsed, and those probabilities are no longer available to us.


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phantom power Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-21-09 02:39 PM
Response to Original message
2. I'm confused. Photosynthesis is not even in the ballpark of 95% efficient...
The value of the photosynthetic efficiency is dependent on how light energy is defined. On a molecular level, the theoretical limit in efficiency is 25 percent<1> for photosynthetically active radiation (wavelengths from 400 to 700 nanometer). For actual sunlight, where only 45 percent of the light is photosynthetically active, the theoretical maximum efficiency of solar energy conversion is approximately 11 percent. In actuality, however, plants do not absorb all incoming sunlight (due to reflection, respiration requirements of photosynthesis and the need for optimal solar radiation levels) and do not convert all harvested energy into biomass, which results in an overall photosynthetic efficiency of 3 to 6 percent of total solar radiation.<1>

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosynthetic_efficiency
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-21-09 03:20 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. This is what they're referring to
From CERN:

Efficiency of photosynthesis depends on quantum coherence

Photosynthesis is an amazingly efficient process, capturing 95% or more of the light energy that hits a leaf. Now a study led by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley reveals at least part of how this is done. The trick, revealed by beat patterns in two-dimensional Fourier transform spectroscopy of a bacteriochlorophyll, seems to be that incoming light causes coherent excitation of many different states simultaneously in superposition. This then allows a very efficient search of the various possible reaction complexes into which the energy could be delivered.

The discovery hinged on the two-dimensional electronic-spectroscopy technique developed by the group, which is led by Graham Fleming at Berkeley. This enables the researchers to follow the light-induced excitation energy at it passes through molecular complexes, with a time resolution of femtoseconds. It involves flashing a sample sequentially with femtosecond pulses of light from three laser beams, with a fourth beam to amplify and detect the resulting spectroscopic signals.

The finding contradicts the classical description of the photosynthetic energy transfer process as one in which excitation energy moves step-by-step down the molecular energy ladder from pigment molecules to reaction centres. Instead, the process seems to depend on quantum coherence, which is also what underlies quantum computing. Further research into this effect could lead to a better understanding of how life uses quantum mechanics, and perhaps could also lead to new ways of making solar cells.
About the author

Compiled by Steve Reucroft and John Swain, Northeastern University.

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girl gone mad Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-21-09 05:37 PM
Response to Original message
5. I wish people would stop calling quantum mechanics "spooky". n/t
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-21-09 05:58 PM
Response to Reply #5
6. They're just echoing Einstein
Edited on Wed Oct-21-09 06:04 PM by GliderGuider
When he derided the idea of entanglement as "Spooky action at a distance."

"Spooky" makes a much punchier headline than "counter-intuitive", nicht wahr? And after all, it is almost Halloween...
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Peace Patriot Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-21-09 07:04 PM
Response to Reply #5
7. Thanks for mentioning the "spooky' thing. I was gonna, but got off on another subject.
By calling it "spooky," they promote the kind of superstition that makes it oh-so-easy for corporate PR departments to manipulate public opinion on environmental issues, for instance, coining a brainwashing phrase like "trees, the renewable resource." But the intricate web of life that comprises the ecosystem in which high value trees grow is NOT "renewable" once they have driven key species to extinction. They can grow crap trees for wood chips, maybe. But the dense forest and rich ecosystem that is so vital for the health and continuance of the earth's biosphere is gone, along with high value older trees and the conditions that created them. Corporate logging has led to the extirpation of numerous forest species, including species that we never got to know much about--fungi and bacteria that interacted with everything else. That web of life is irrecoverable, and the trees it grew will never grow again in the same way.

The elaborately balanced, intricate web of species in a natural system is not "spooky." It is REALITY. It is how things are. It is how WE are--as individuals. It is how everything works. We sometimes think of it as a "mystery" because we don't understand the million filaments of the web and how they interact. I think "mystery" is an okay word, re Nature, because it implies respect. But "spooky" implies fear. Neither quantum physics nor quantum biology is "scary." It is merely the best description of certain phenomena that we have. Those phenomena may be quite surprising. They are not "spooky."
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caraher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-22-09 08:44 AM
Response to Original message
8. The trouble with "spooky" is promotion of woo
If science is "spooky" then anything goes, right? Never mind that the same physics that gets interpreted by the naive as saying all bets are off yields the most precise, verified quantitative predictions in all science. Never mind that a random element in the theory in no way implies that anyone gets to choose experimental outcomes.

The takeaway message is not that the universe is different from "common sense" expectations but well-described by theory, but that everything is purportedly beyond human comprehension, leaving us no choice but to embrace the mysterious and incomprehensible. An intellectually mature understanding both acknowledges that there are things we don't know and may never know without pretending that the fact that science sometimes leads us to some counterintuitive conclusions implies the existence of inherently incomprehensible mysteries in those areas.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-22-09 08:56 AM
Response to Reply #8
9. OK, so now make a catchy headline out of that
Edited on Thu Oct-22-09 09:10 AM by GliderGuider
While I agree with you in principle, the first rule in writing is "know your audience". So your task is to come up with a headline that will draw readers on a website that is frequented by people who find value in "woo".

Oh, and speaking of terms to despise, "woo" is one of mine. It's arrogant, ideological, derogatory, dismissive, disrespectful and contributes nothing to any discussion. Worse than "spooky", actually.
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