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Why is quantum physics needed to explain photosynthesis?

In what aspect does the corresponding classical theories for photosynthesis fail?

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Maybe the bigger and more relevant question is how, instead of why quantum physics is being used to explain photosynthesis. – Tomarinator Mar 19 '12 at 13:52
up vote 3 down vote accepted

The article Arnold links to is well worth a read, but in addition to that, recently there has been a lot of interest in the role of quantum entanglement and coherence in photosynthesis. If you've recently come across articles about quantum physics and photosynthesis it's probably this aspect that was being described.

I don't know of any definitive review of this area, but Googling for "photosynthesis entanglement" or better still "photosynthesis entanglement" finds lots of articles.

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The absorption of light is a quantum process.

Here is an article from Nature (2004) that addresses the question: 2004 Nature 431 256.pdf

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Well, photosynthesis has to do with the absorption of photons to break/make certain bonds. The most classical you can get with this is Bohr's model, nothing prior to that explains absorption of light. Bohr's model is kind of an extremely basic type of quantum mechanics, and anyways it does not work for multielectronic species. Bonds become impossible to analyse here.

Normal QM/molecular orbital theory, on the other hand, deal with the nature of the electrons, even when they are in bonds. So it explains the process pretty well.

So it's not that some classical theory failed, it's that there was no way to classically explain photosynthesis further than "the bond absorbs light". Why does the bond absorb light? Because it can{*}.

Classical theories need not fail in every aspect :)

*Insert appropriate James Bond joke here

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This first began after observations that plants can maintain quantum entanglement even at room temperatures.

This link explains very well your question (it contains the research done in this new field): Quantum Photosynthesis.

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Plants harvest light with near perfect efficiency, but this is impossible under classical physics. Along the way to the photosynthzing core, photons should collide with other particles, but they don't. A photon reaching the core is as likely to succeed as you sprinting through a dense forest blindfolded trying to get to the center of the forest without hitting any trees. Plants are engaged in a kind of miracle. The plant puts the photon into a state of quantam superposition, multiplying it by every route the photon could take. It's like when you are running through the forest being multiplied into the billions of possible routes. If any one of the possible routes were observed hitting a tree,the Super position would collapse, and that would be your final outcome. A plant simply refuses to view any of these casualties.

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