Does Life know about quantum mechanics? - Jim Al-Khalili

Oxford Mathematics Roger Penrose Public Lecture

Does Life know about quantum mechanics? – Jim Al-Khalili

Physicists and chemists are used to dealing with quantum mechanics, but biologists have thus far got away without having to worry about this strange yet powerful theory of the subatomic world. However, times are changing. There is now solid evidence that enzymes use quantum tunnelling to accelerate chemical reactions, while plants and bacteria use a quantum trick in photosynthesis – sending lumps of sunlight energy in multiple directions at once. It even appears that some animals have the ability to use quantum entanglement – what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance” – as a compass to ‘see’ the earth’s magnetic field. In our research at the University of Surrey we are discovering that life may even have evolved mechanisms to control genetic mutations caused by quantum tunnelling of protons between strands of DNA. Welcome to the exciting new field of quantum biology.

Jim Al-Khalili CBE FRS is an academic, author and broadcaster. He holds a Distinguished Chair in Theoretical Physics at the University of Surrey where he conducts research in quantum physics. He has written fifteen books on popular science, between them translated into over twenty-six languages. He is a regular presenter of TV science documentaries and the long-running BBC Radio 4 programme, The Life Scientific.

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