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Quantum Coherent Effects in Photosynthesis

By K. Birgitta Whaley

University of California, Berkeley

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The initial, light-harvesting step of photosynthesis is known to be exceptionally efficient, transporting absorbed light energy as electronic excitation to the reaction center with near unity efficiency within a few picoseconds. Experiments have revealed that this process shows surprisingly long-lived electronic coherences, prompting speculation that light-harvesting complexes might be robust, evolved quantum processors that operate effectively in a highly decohering environment. I shall present and discuss theoretical studies of the quantum dynamics of a prototypical photosynthetic light harvesting complex, the Fenna-Matthews-Olson (FMO) complex, that analyze the nature and extent of two characteristic features of quantum processors, namely quantum speedup and quantum entanglement, in these biological systems.


K. Birgitta Whaley Professor, born 1956; B.A. Oxford University (1978); Nuffield Scholar (1974-78); Kennedy Fellow, Harvard University (1978-79); M. Sc. (1982), Ph.D. University of Chicago (1984); Golda Meir Fellow, Hebrew University, Jerusalem (1984-85), Post Doctoral Fellow, Tel Aviv University (1985-86); Bergmann Award (1986); A. P. Sloan Foundation Fellow (1991-93); Member, ACS, APS, Deutsche Bunsen Gesellschaft; Alexander vonHumboldt Senior Scientist (1996-97); Fellow, American Physical Society (2002-); Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science Professor, University of California, Berkeley (2002-2003).

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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • K. Birgitta Whaley (2011), "Quantum Coherent Effects in Photosynthesis,"

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