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Memory effects in quantum biology: A mechanism for delaying quantum decoherence in cells?

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  • Full or part time
    Dr A Rocco
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

A 3-year PhD studentship is available at the University of Surrey in the emerging field of Quantum Biology. The studentship is part of an exciting interdisciplinary collaboration between the Department of Microbial Sciences and the Department of Physics of the University of Surrey.

Quantum effects and biological systems seem to be at odds with each other. Quantum effects are typically confined to very specific experimental conditions characterized by low temperatures and little interaction with the environment. In contrast biological systems are naturally warm, and strongly coupled with their own environment. However, it has recently emerged that quantum phenomena may be at the bases of a number of biological processes, such as photosynthesis, avian magnetoreception, and tunnelling processes in enzyme catalysis (see [1] for a review). In these systems, quantum coherence and entanglement are expected to be sustained for long times. Evidence has been collected that this is indeed the case for instance in photosynthesis [2].

The aim of the project is to identify theoretically mechanisms that contribute to sustain long-lived quantum coherence in biological systems. In particular the student will test the hypothesis that the specific cellular environment might produce fluctuations (noise) with memory effects capable of increasing decoherence times [3]. Different types of noise will be analysed both analytically and numerically by using the theory of open quantum systems [4]. Decoherence times will be estimated in different scenarios, and the relevance of memory in sustaining coherence in the cell assessed.

The project is supervised by Dr Andrea Rocco (University of Surrey, Microbial Sciences Department) and co-supervised by Prof Johnjoe McFadden (University of Surrey, Microbial Sciences Department) and Prof Jim Al-Khalili (University of Surrey, Department of Physics).

Informal enquiries about the project can be addressed by email to Dr Andrea Rocco ([Email Address Removed]).
Interested candidates should apply through the university website. Applicants should have (or expected to obtain) a MSc degree or a first class undergraduate degree in Physics or Mathematics, with solid knowledge of quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics. Even though previous knowledge in Biology is not required, a keen interest in the biological aspects of the project is desirable.

Funding Notes

This is a three-year full-time studentship, co-funded by the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences (FHMS) and the Faculty of Engineering and Physical and Sciences (FEPS) of the University of Surrey. The studentship is available to Home/EU students only, and covers a stipend of £14,057 per annum and Tuition Fees of £4,050.


[1] J. Al-Khalili and J. McFadden, Life on the edge: The coming of age of quantum biology, Bantam Press (2014).
[2] G. Panitchayangkoon et al., Long-lived quantum coherence in photosynthetic complexes at physiological temperature, PNAS 107, 12766-12770 (2010).
[3] A.W.Chin, S.F. Huelga and M.B. Plenio, Coherence and decoherence in biological systems: principles of noise-assisted transport and the origin of long-lived coherences, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 370, 3638-3657 (2012).
[4] W.T. Strunz, Decoherence in Quantum Physics, in “Coherent Evolution in Noisy Environments”, Eds. A. Buchleitner and K. Hornberger, Lecture Notes in Physics 611 (2002), chapter 5.

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