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In the Blink of Bird’s Eye, a Model for Quantum Navigation

Thanks to Jon for the link.


European robins may maintain quantum entanglement in their eyes a full 20 microseconds longer than the best laboratory systems, say physicists investigating how birds may use quantum effects to “see” Earth’s magnetic field.

Quantum entanglement is a state where electrons are spatially separated, but able to affect one another. It’s been proposed that birds’ eyes contain entanglement-based compasses.

Conclusive proof doesn’t yet exist, but multiple lines of evidence suggest it. Findings like this one underscore just how sophisticated those compasses may be.

“How can a living system have evolved to protect a quantum state as well — no, better — than we can do in the lab with these exotic molecules?” asked quantum physicist Simon Benjamin of Oxford University and the National University of Singapore, a co-author of the new study. “That really is an amazing thing.”

Many animals — including not only birds, but some mammals, fish, reptiles, even crustaceans and insects — navigate by sensing the direction of Earth’s magnetic field. Physicist Klaus Schulten of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign proposed in the late 1970s that bird navigation relied on some geomagnetically sensitive, as-yet-unknown biochemical reaction taking place in their eyes.

Research since then has revealed the existence of special optical cells containing a protein called cryptochrome. When a photon enters the eye, it hits cryptochrome, giving a boost of energy to electrons that exist in a state of quantum entanglement.

One of the electrons migrates a few nanometers away, where it feels a slightly different magnetic field than its partner. Depending on how the magnetic field alters the electron’s spin, different chemical reactions are produced. In theory, the products of many such reactions across a bird’s eye could create a picture of Earth’s magnetic field as a varying pattern of light and dark.

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TAGGED: BIOLOGY, PHYSICS


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