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Life on the Edge: Why Life Needs Quantum Mechanics

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Life is the most extraordinary phenomenon in the known universe; but how does it work? It is remarkable that in this age of cloning and even synthetic biology, nobody has ever made anything living entirely out of dead material. Life remains the only way to make life. Are we missing a vital ingredient in its creation? In this talk I will shift the focus of understanding life from cells or biomolecules to the fundamental particles that drive life’s dynamics. From this new perspective, life makes more sense as its missing ingredient is revealed to be quantum mechanics and the strange phenomena that lie at the heart of this most mysterious of sciences. Ground-breaking experiments show that photosynthesis relies on particles existing in many places at once; whilst other research demonstrates that inside enzymes, those workhorses of life that make every molecule within our cells, particles vanish from one point in space and instantly materialize in another. Birds appear to navigate around the globe by harnessing spooky quantum connections; and the scent of a rose may waft up from the quantum realm. Even our genes are quantum-coded. I will conclude that life, uniquely, navigates a narrow strait between the world we know and the strange and counterintuitive realm of quantum mechanics. Life lives on the quantum edge.

This talk is part of the Stokes Society, Pembroke College series.

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