Quantum Biology

A relatively new field of research

Katrina Paulson

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“Normal cells of human connective tissue in culture at a magnification of 500x” — Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Nature is multidimensional. Beyond the individual categories we study — like physics, biology, or chemistry — there are also two levels of Nature that follow different sets of rules: the macro, or large scale level, and the tiny quantum one. Subjects like chemistry and physics are rooted in the tiny world of quantum mechanics, while biology is more often studied using classical mechanics in the larger realm.

Yet, at the source, all living systems are governed by quantum physics on the atomic scale — everything is. Over the last few decades, scientists have made massive progress in learning about biological systems at increasingly tiny scales. Experts now know how to manipulate some of these systems, like with genetic engineering, but despite our rapid progress, we have no idea the extent to which quantum effects influence biological systems.

Quantum Effects in Biology

The motion of macroscopic objects (anything we can see with our naked eye) all obey the laws of Classical Mechanics in physics. These rules help us track the motion of things like an airplane’s path or a planet’s rotation. However, it’s well known that the laws of classical mechanics fall apart when applied to atomic scales.

Things like atoms and molecules on the quantum level obey a different set of laws called quantum mechanics, which achieve things that seem magical compared to the classical world. For instance, superposition allows particles to be in two places at once, and electrons “tunnel” through tiny energy barriers like ghosts walking through walls.

So now scientists want to know:

“Does this atomic scale matter in biology? Does life need quantum mechanics? In other words, can quantum mechanics play a fundamental role and have a physiological impact in biology?”

Quantum Biology

I know a single cell seems tiny, and it is, but to put this all in perspective, one human cell is estimated to have 100,000,000,000,000 atoms — or 100 trillion atoms.

Typically, quantum effects of atoms and molecules are expected to disappear in the “warm, wet environment of the cell,” as described by the physicist Erwin Schrödinger…

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Katrina Paulson

I wonder about humanity, questions with no answers, and new discoveries. Then I write about them here and on substack! https://curiousadventure.substack.com