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Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability

Department of Physics
Unlocking nature's quantum engineering

Research by Dr Alex Chin published in Nature Physics provides insight on coherent processes in pigment-protein complexes

Quantum scale photosynthesis in biological systems, which inhabit extreme environments, could hold key to new designs for solar energy and nanoscale devices.

Research performed by Winton Fellow Alex Chin with collaborators from the Institute of Theoretical Physics at Universität Ulm in Germany and University of Cartagena in Spain, resolves an important mystery in the newly-emerging field of quantum biology – the origins and longevity of the quantum, wave-like properties that transport energy during the early stages of photosynthesis.

The results have been published in Nature Physics, the paper ‘The role of non-equilibrium vibrational structures in electronic coherence and recoherence in pigment–protein complexes’ can be viewed here.

The researchers contend that the exceptional light-harvesting capacity of these protein systems is down to intricate processes of energy transport that fall outside ‘classical’ physics, depending strongly on tropes of quantum physics – primarily that of ‘quantum coherence’.

“This new understanding of how to maintain coherence in excitons, and even regenerate it through molecular vibrations, provides a fascinating glimpse into the intricate design solutions – seemingly including quantum engineering – that nature has produced through evolution, and which could provide the inspiration for new types of room temperature quantum devices.”

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