Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that they bioengineered a virus and applied quantum physics on it to make it carry subparticles faster. Scientists explained that they drew inspiration from nature.
During photosynthesis plants make use of quantum physics to transport sun light from receptors to their ‘reaction centers,’ which can later harness solar energy better than even the best solar cells in the world.
But MIT engineers were able to recreate in their laboratory the quantum physics effects that allow plants to be so energy effective including the ability of matter to be in several places at once.
Nevertheless, researchers didn’t use state-of-the-art technology to achieve these effects. Instead they relied on a genetically modified virus. It is the first time, that a MIT team blends genetic engineering with quantum physics in their research.
Seth Lloyd, co-author of the study and quantum theory researcher at Heechul Park, explained that when photons reach a plant’s receptors, which are called chromophores, those receptors generate a quantum particle dubbed exciton. This particle erratically travels from one receptor to another until it hits a reaction center, which harnesses the energy into particles that help the plant live.
Excitons, however, go on multiple pathways at the same time and chose the fastest ones. This behavior is more common to waves than to particles. But in order for quantum principles to kick in chromophores need to be located at a certain distance from one another. The phenomenon is called the “Quantum Goldilocks Effect.”
Prof Lloyd and fellow researcher from MIT Prof Angela Belcher were able to edit a virus and tie it with organic dyes or man-made chromophores. Next, researchers produced several types of viruses with chromophores displayed at different spacings between one another.
After the team found which spacings were optimal to simulate the Quantum Goldilocks Effect, they were able to double the speed at which excitons were moving, which is an incredible feat.
The work made possible by Lloyd’s and Belcher’s years of research. Seven years ago, Lloyd found that plants transport light energy efficiently because of quantum physics, while Belcher has been designing and testing edited viruses that can transport energy for years.
The duo hopes that their work may help science reach nature’s efficiency in energy transportation and help engineers design super-efficient solar cells.
Image Source: Flickr
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