Nature's way of blending quantum and classical is essentially new form of computing

11/25/2013 - 00:00

Physicists have long known that plants and bacteria convert light into chemical energy in a way that is hugely efficient. But only in recent years have they discovered that the molecular machines behind this process rely on quantum mechanics to do the job.

That’s a big surprise because of the temperatures involved. Quantum states are highly fragile—sneeze and they disappear in a puff of smoke. Physicists can maintain these states for some time in carefully controlled environments at low temperature but nobody can explain how it can be possible in the warm wet environments inside living things.

Today,  Gabor Vattay at Eotvos University in Budapest and Stuart Kauffman at the University of Vermont in Burlington have the answer. They say the processes behind light harvesting are a special blend of the quantum and the classical. And that this delicate mix represents an entirely new form of computing that nature might exploit in other systems too.