Over the course of time I read many books, studied many hours on quantum physics, the quantum potential of waves, the bi-location of particles, the energetic fabric of the universe, and the subjective quality of time and space, …. the biological (spatio-temporal) information-processing ability to weave information together into a coherent experience. The more I learn, the more I’m curious, eager to understand reality.
The beauty of Physics is mainly represented by its remarkable capability to understand many fascinating natural phenomena, from the origin of rainbows to the formation of a star, from the blue color of the sea to the changing seasons. And even the basic functioning of man-made objects and techniques such as smartphones, GPS, transportation systems, etc..
Physics basically consists of two branches that focus on the macroscopic and microscopic world; they are called classical and quantum physics, respectively. To test and apply the latter, one usually needs to go to very sophisticated labs that make it possible to observe the fragile properties of very tiny objects like atoms and electrons or to engineer complex but very clean nanostructrures which is often only possible at temperatures that are much colder than any place on Earth. Quantum effects tend to fade at the level of whole atoms and molecules. At this level, classical mechanics, the realm of forces laid out by Isaac Newton and others, begins to dictate the movements of objects. Quantum mechanics also is thought to be most noticeable at temperatures close to absolute zero. The general thinking goes that there is no way quantum effects could persist at the relatively balmy temperatures of life.
But what if — just what if — they did?
Although many examples can be found in the scientific literature dating back half a century, there is still no widespread acceptance that quantum mechanics might play an important role in biological processes. Biology is, at its most basic, chemistry, and chemistry is built on the rules of quantum mechanics in the way atoms and molecules behave and fit together. Biologists were able to make sense of biological phenomena without using the counterintuitive quantum laws of physics that govern the atomic scale. Quantum physics and biology have long been regarded as unrelated disciplines, describing nature at the inanimate microlevel on the one hand and living species on the other hand. Over the past decades the life sciences have succeeded in providing ever more and refined explanations of macroscopic phenomena that were based on an improved understanding of molecular structures and mechanisms. Simultaneously, quantum physics, originally rooted in a world-view of quantum coherences, entanglement, and other nonclassical effects, has been heading toward systems of increasing complexity.
In recent years progress in experimental technology has revealed that quantum phenomena are relevant for fundamental biological processes such as photosynthesis, magneto-reception and olfaction -the science how we smell-.
Be skeptical, not dismissive
There are still several open questions in the actual ultimate role of quantum physics in the specific proteins involved in such natural phenomena, and about how, for example, optimal control techniques and manipulation schemes, which have been developed for other quantum systems, may further exploit these effects. And there are more ideas in quantum biology. As mentioned olfaction, magneto-reception, photosynthesis, have been linked to quantum effects. So has consciousness, with proposals that quantum processing of atomic spins may be at the core of consciousness or that voltage-gated ion channels may act as the centers for quantum effects. These areas are surrounded by more skepticism and controversy than the other areas of quantum biology. But just because we did not had to learn quantum mechanics and have the headaches of figuring out how a particle can be in two places at once, it doesn’t mean quantum mechanics doesn’t happen in biology.
A deeper understanding of quantum biological natural phenomena might also bring a clear impact on society’s consumption of energy and the development of innovative, bio-inspired, more sustainable and cheaper technologies going much beyond our current state-of-the-art. Then we should learn from what Nature has been doing very well for so many years, and engineer new nanomaterials that are able to exploit the same physical principles to perform some tasks with a remarkably high efficiency and robustness, e.g. the light harvesting process in a novel bio-inspired solar cell or more sensitive magnetic/olfaction nanosensors. More feasible, robust and very efficient devices for green energies, communication and navigation protocols, biological sensing and imaging, with all being based on more environment-friendly sustainable resources.