If there is one thing in the world that can best embody the view that ” science is difficult to understand”, then quantum mechanics must be inevitable. Scientific research shows that in the microscopic quantum world, the behavior of matter is very strange, which is almost impossible in the macroscopic world we are familiar with. For example, a particle can exist in two different positions at the same time, or it can disappear instantly or appear out of thin air.
Fortunately, it is gratifying that this strange quantum physical effect has a very limited impact on the macro world in which we live. The world we are familiar with is still the world dominated by ” classical” physics – or at least this is what scientists have always believed – until several years ago.
Quantum Effect in Photosynthesis
At first glance, photosynthesis seems very easy to carry out.
Now, our source of confidence is gradually collapsing. Quantum effect may not be as far away from our life as we thought before. On the contrary, they may exist in many familiar life phenomena and processes, from photosynthesis to power plants, to migratory behavior of birds, and even our sense of smell may be related to quantum physics.
In fact, quantum effect is one of nature’s basic tools. It ensures that living organisms can operate better and makes our bodies become a system that operates more smoothly.
For example, on the surface, photosynthesis is a very simple process. Plants, green algae and some kinds of bacteria can use sunlight and carbon dioxide to generate energy and synthesize organic substances. What puzzled biologists was that the whole process seemed a little too easy.
There is a link in photosynthesis that puzzled scientists in particular: a photon, which you can understand as a particle that makes up light, after traveling through the universe for billions of years, meets an electron in a leaf outside your window. For this lucky electron, exposure to photons gives it energy and starts to move around. It passes through a small area in the leaf cells and transfers its extra energy to a special molecule, which acts as a similar energy flow, delivering ” fuel” to all parts of the plant body.
▲ The quantum effect is probably hidden behind photosynthesis.
The problem here is that this small energy delivery system works too well. Classical physics holds that excited electrons should move around in the cell responsible for photosynthesis for a period of time after being excited, and then it is possible to come out from the other end to complete the energy transfer process. However, in reality, the time taken for electrons to pass through the whole cell is much less than the theoretical value.
This is not over, excited electrons will lose almost no energy in the whole process. This seems to be a difficult phenomenon from the point of view of classical physics, because electrons should lose part of their energy due to collisions with areas such as the inner wall of the cell in the process of randomly passing through the interior of the cell, but in fact this did not happen. The whole process was too fast, too perfect, too smooth and too efficient – in short, the process was too perfect and hardly seemed real.
Then in 2007, scientists studying photosynthesis began to make progress on this issue. Scientists have observed evidence that quantum effects play a role in photosynthesis – related cells. The observation of electronic behavior opens the door to relevant research progress. Scientists realize that quantum effects may play an important role in biological processes.
This may be part of the answer to why excited electrons can pass through photosynthetic cells so efficiently. One of the strange features of quantum mechanics is that it allows particles to exist in many different positions at the same time. This feature is called ” quantum superposition”. Using this feature, a particle can search for multiple different locations within a cell at the same time in a very short time, instead of ” successively” searching for these locations. This way allows the particle to find the nearest passage path almost instantaneously, thus greatly reducing the passage time and minimizing the probability of collision with the internal structure of the cell.
Quantum mechanics can explain why photosynthesis is so efficient, which surprises biologists. Susana Huelga, a quantum physicist in university of ulm, said: ” I think people will start to realize at this time that some exciting event is happening.”
Can quantum mechanics explain the high efficiency of photosynthesis?
Quantum phenomena such as quantum superposition have been observed in highly controlled environments before. In general, scientists need to reduce the temperature of the experimental environment to extremely low temperature when observing quantum phenomena, thus greatly inhibiting irrelevant activities of cells to prevent the latter from interfering with the observation of quantum behavior effects. But even under such extremely low temperature conditions, matter must be placed in a vacuum environment to be observed, and the premise is that the observation equipment used by scientists must be extremely accurate, because the quantum effect is too weak to be observed.
However, the humid, warm and vibrant cellular environment is obviously the place where people are least connected with quantum effects. However, Helga said: ” But even here, the quantum effect still exists.”
Of course, the mere fact that quantum effects exist in cells does not in itself explain what role this effect can play in the phenomena of cell life. There are some theories that quantum superposition effect plays a key role in plant photosynthesis, but Helga pointed out that there is still a lack of relevant research on how to establish a clear connection between this effect and actual biological functions. He said: ” The next step is to carry out some quantitative analysis and research to prove that the high efficiency shown in this biological process is indeed related to the effect of quantum effect.”
Quantum Effect in bird migration Mechanism
Furthermore, the role of quantum effect in biology is probably not limited to the photosynthesis mechanism of plants. Another mystery that has puzzled the scientific community since the 19th century is probably also related to this, that is, how do migrating birds know the flight path?
Migratory birds often fly thousands of kilometers away, like robin often flies to southern Europe or north Africa to avoid the severe winter. It is very dangerous to travel long distances over strange areas like this. Without reliable navigation, such a journey would be almost impossible. If a robin from Poland has a wrong sense of direction, it may fly to colder Siberia instead of warm North Africa Morocco.
How does robin know the direction of flight?
The theory that some biological navigation organs may exist in these birds is hard to hold water. If there are really some extremely fine needle-shaped magnets deep inside robin’s brain or eyes to detect the earth’s magnetic field and realize navigation, such organs should have been detected long ago in the face of such advanced modern technology. However, this is not the case. So far, scientists have not detected any organs or tissues in robin’s body that may undertake this difficult navigation function.
Another theory related to this was put forward in the 1970s. Scientists imagine that birds may have some kind of chemical navigator based on quantum effect, which can help birds indicate the north.
Peter Hore, a chemist at Oxford University in England, said that the operation of the chemical navigator would require single electrons involving excited states and quantum effects called ” spins”.
Electrons in molecules are usually paired, and their spins are in opposite directions, which can just cancel each other out, so they are not sensitive to the external environment. However, a single electron simply rotates, which cannot be offset. This means that it will interact with the surrounding environment – such as the earth’s magnetic field.
The interaction between quantum effect and the earth’s magnetic field may constitute robin’s navigator.
Hall pointed out that experiments have proved that robins temporarily lose their sense of orientation when exposed to radio waves ( a form of electromagnetic waves ) of a specific frequency. If the frequency of a certain radio wave is exactly the same as that of the electron spin, it will cause the resonance effect of the electron, thus making the vibration of the electron more obvious.
But what does this have to do with birds using chemical navigators? Yes. Scientists believe that there are some free electrons in the organs behind birds’ eyes, which will induce the earth’s magnetic field. The effect of the earth’s magnetic field will cause electrons to leave their original positions in the chemical navigator and start a series of reaction processes to produce a specific chemical substance. As long as birds continue to fly in the same direction without deviation, the content of this chemical will continue to increase.
Therefore, for the bird’s body, it is only necessary to detect the content of this chemical substance in the body to obtain information about whether the direction is correct and whether there is any yaw. This information will be released and the bird’s nervous system will be stimulated to respond accordingly. The bird will know whether it is flying towards Morocco or Siberia.
Radio wave experiments are of great significance because we can now roughly expect that anything that can interfere with the spin of free electrons should be able to, at least in part, affect the work of bird chemical navigators. In this way, we can also explain the phenomenon that some birds suddenly cannot correctly distinguish directions.
But even so, this theory is still only a theory so far, and people are still far from understanding its essence. Hall has been using various molecular types that can theoretically undertake this work to carry out relevant experiments, hoping to uncover the secrets of bird quantum chemical navigators.
▲ This chemical navigator will be able to tell birds if its flight direction is correct.
Hall said: ” We have carried out some experiments with some compounds to prove that chemical navigators are possible in principle.” These efforts have so far enabled them to identify some candidate molecular types, which seem likely to play a role in the detection of the earth’s magnetic field. Hall said: ” What we are not sure at present is whether the reaction in bird cells is exactly the same as that in the laboratory.”
Hall said that the theory of magnetic field navigation is only a small part of the complicated and poorly researched navigation system for birds. Using quantum theory to explain this navigation mechanism is the best attempt at present, but a lot of work still needs to be done to truly link bird behavior patterns with theoretical chemistry principles.
Quantum Effect Behind Our Olfaction
Another area that is likely to help scientists uncover the mysteries of quantum biology is the science of smell.
How can our noses distinguish different smells? The traditional olfactory theory is difficult to explain how our nose can distinguish various odor macromolecules – when some odor molecules enter our nasal cavity, the scientific community is still not clear what happened after that. But somehow, these molecules interact with some smell receptors in our nasal cavity and allow us to recognize these smells.
Why can we smell the smell?
A trained professional can distinguish thousands of different smells. However, how odor molecules express different odors is still unclear. Many molecules are almost identical in appearance, except that one or two more atoms are added around them. As a result, they can show completely different smells. Vanilla element smells like vanilla, but eugenol, which has a very similar structure, smells like clove. The structures of some molecules are mirror images of each other, just like your left and right hands, which also show different smells. But similarly, some molecules with very different structures smell almost exactly the same.
Luca Turin is a chemist at the Greek BSRC alexander fleming Research Institute. He has long been devoted to the research on the related topics of which nature of molecules determines the odor they exhibit. He said: ” There is something very, very special in the depth of olfactory science. Simply put, our ability to analyze different molecules and atoms somehow does not conform to the molecular recognition pattern we think we know.” He believes that the odor it displays cannot be determined by its molecular structure alone. On the contrary, he believes that the nature of some chemical bonds within the molecule may provide key information about its odor type.
According to Turing’s quantum theory on smell and smell, when an odor molecule enters a human nasal cavity and is combined with an odor receiver, a so-called ” quantum tunneling effect” will occur inside the receiver.
In the quantum tunneling effect, an electron can pass through the material and reach point b from point a, in the process it seems to be able to bypass the intermediate material without being blocked. Similar to bird’s quantum navigator, the key link is resonance phenomenon. Turing believes that a specific chemical bond in the odor molecule can resonate under the action of a specific energy, thus helping electrons on one side of the receiver molecule to quickly move to the other side. This tunneling effect can only occur when the chemical bonds in the odor molecules resonate at appropriate energy levels.
When electron migration occurs inside the receiver, a series of chain reactions will be triggered at the same time. In this process, a signal will be generated to tell the smell receiver in the nasal cavity of the brain that it has come into contact with certain kinds of smell molecules. Turing believes that this process is crucial to our sense of smell and is essentially based on quantum effects. He said: ” The occurrence of smell needs to involve the chemical composition of smell molecules. The explanation of olfactory process can be well explained in quantum tunneling effect. ”
Borane smells like rotten eggs.
As for Turing’s theory, the strongest evidence so far comes from a discovery that there are two kinds of molecules with very different structures. As long as they have chemical bonds with similar energy level properties, then their tastes will be very similar.
Turing predicted that a relatively rare chemical called ” borane” should smell similar to sulfur, or it should smell like rotten eggs. Turing has never been exposed to this substance before, so this prediction looks more like a gamble.
But his prediction is correct. Turing said it was like a chain to him, connecting the two. He said: ” The chemical structure of borane is completely different from sulfur. The only thing they have in common is that they both have similar resonant frequencies. In fact, they are also the only two chemicals known in nature that smell like sulfur. ”
Although the prediction itself is a great success for the theory, it cannot be regarded as the final proof. Ideally, Turing hopes to be able to fully understand the specific mechanism of how the receiver in the nasal cavity identifies different odor molecules through quantum effects. He said that scientists are now very close to carrying out relevant experiments. He said: ” I don’t want to say discouraging words, but we are indeed carrying out related work. I think we will be able to do it, maybe we will make progress in the next few months. ”
However, whether or not nature will really use quantum effects to help living organisms draw energy from sunlight, distinguish between north and south directions, or distinguish between different tastes, the strange nature of the atomic world will still tell us a lot of information about the subtle structures inside cells.