Study observes quantum physics in plants

Study observes quantum physics in plants

Madrid : Spain | Jun 21, 2013 at 3:30 PM PDT
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Lecture 1 | Modern Physics: Quantum Mechanics (Stanford)

In an astounding new research, it has been learnt that plants, in order to create food via photosynthesis, actually use quantum physics to perform this vital function, using quantum physics to increase the efficiency with which the plant harvests light.

According to researchers from Spain, the process of photosynthesis in which plants use light from the sun to create “food” within their own cells actually employs certain quantum “tricks.” According to the research published in the journal, Science, it has been proven that plants specifically use a quantum technique known as “coherence” to determine the most efficient path for the light or photons to take towards the light harvesting cells known as chlorophyll.

The researchers, from the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Castelldefels, Spain, demonstrated that coherence is used by a “relatively large sample” of plants, and that even more surprising thing about the use of this quantum trick is that within the plants themselves, the coherences tend to differ, that is change characteristic in order ensure that the photons being channeled within the plant are on their most efficient path.

The new research has been described as a “nice proof” of something that was only theorized, as quantum physics itself was not thought to have existed in biological organisms and under such relatively “normal” conditions. Quantum phenomenon have most often been observed within the laboratory only and under very specific conditions, but the present research has shown that quantum phenomenon also exist within the biological world.

For the present study, the researchers used a type of purple bacteria and its light-harvesting complexes. The researchers directed a laser light at the bacteria and found that it produced a fluorescence in the bacterial cells, which gradually started pulsate, indicating that the energy from the laser light was coming and going.

Explaining this, Niek van Hulst of the Institute of Photonic Sciences said, “What you see here is this photon comes in, and it sees many energy pathways. Where does it go? It goes to the one that's most efficient, the one where this quantum effect tells you it has the highest probability (of being put to use),” while adding, "Nature is very robust at keeping this up no matter what happens - this for me is something shocking. The result is that this fluffy stuff at room temperature where everything is variable, it just works - with an efficiency of 90%: way, way better than any solar cell we can make ourselves."

arkar is based in Seattle, Washington, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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