Research suggests plants capable of employing quantum physics

June 21, 2013 at 3:38 PM
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CASTELLDEFELS, Spain, June 21 (UPI) -- Researchers in Spain say they've seen evidence plants make use of quantum physics to harvest light more efficiently.

Scientists at the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Castelldefels said plants gather packets of light called photons, moving them deep into their cells where energy is efficiently converted. New research suggests an effect called a "coherence" helps determine the most efficient path for the photons.

This is linked to the quantum mechanical notion of a "superposition," which asserts a particle can effectively be in many places at once or try multiple paths simultaneously.

"What you see here is this photon comes in, and it sees many energy pathways," researcher Niek van Hulst told BBC News.

"Where does it go? It goes to the one that's most efficient, the one where this quantum effect tells you it has the highest probability (of being put to use)," he said.

Not all scientist are convinced "quantum effects" occur in biological settings, but Rienk van Grondelle of the Free University Amsterdam said the findings offer "a very nice proof."

"Of course (the acceptance of quantum effects in biology) is not going to come from one single paper," he said. "It will take more evidence, and maybe more elaborate evidence that this is really happening. But this is how science goes."

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