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Quantum Light Harvesting Hints at Entirely New Form of Computing


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The light harvesting complex of a photosynthetic bacterium.

The combination of classical and quantum processes used in the efficient harvesting of light by plants and bacteria could transform computing.

Credit: MacMillan Magazines Ltd.

Complexity theorists' claim that a delicate combination of classical and quantum processes explains the efficient harvesting of light by plants and bacteria could have a potentially transformative effect on computing.

The discovery that the molecular mechanisms underlying light harvesting utilize quantum mechanics despite the temperatures involved came as a surprise.

The most investigated quantum processes in light-harvesting systems occur in the Fenna-Matthews-Olson (FMO) complex, which contains reaction centers that convert the energy from light into chemical energy. When light strikes the FMO complex, the energy must travel across the protein matrix until it reaches a reaction center, yet this transfer happens with nearly 100 percent efficiency.

University of Vermont researcher Stuart Kauffman and Eotvos University's Gabor Vattay propose a process in which the quantum search mechanism and environmental interaction integrate to surmount the obstacle of Anderson localization, with the optimal delivery of energy to the reaction center facilitated by the interplay between these processes. Their theory is that environmental interaction changes the wave-like nature of the quantum state to prevent Anderson localization. Kauffman and Vattay suggest that computers based on artificial light harvesting complexes could have units up to 1,000 times more efficient at room temperature.

From Technology Review
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