Photosynthesis allows plants to convert light from the Sun into energy, and, in some cases, it does this incredibly well. In fact, certain bacteria can capture 95% of the light that hits them and turn it into useful energy.
Solar panels also convert light from the Sun into energy—but they aren't nearly as good at it. The very best solar panels ever tested in a lab (i.e., not the ones actually available for sale and installation on your house) were able to convert about 34% of the light that hit them into electricity. (Individual experimental solar cells can do better than that. But those are even further away from being incorporated into commercially available panels.)
Why can't we use the Sun's energy as effectively as bacteria can? The secret may be that the bacteria are using quantum physics to transmit energy. It's sort of like the bacteria have a method for keeping boxes of energy from falling off the truck during transport.
We don't often think of biology and quantum physics as overlapping realms of science. But, truth is, quantum physics could be incredibly important to understanding the way biology works and to the very development of life on Earth itself.
Tonight at the World Science Festival, astrophysicist Paul Davies and quantum computing innovator Seth Lloyd will talk about the growing field of quantum biology—why it works, what it means, and how it might shape our future. The Bad News: The Festival is happening in New York City and tonight's panel is sold out. The Good News: You can watch a live webcast of the event online.
I'll be hosting the webcast tonight, starting at 8:00 Eastern time. You can watch the video feed and join in the conversation at the World Science Festival's website.
EDIT: Thanks to the readers for pointing out that I'd made some big errors in this. Should be fixed now.
Image: Jatropha hybrid - Leaf detail (129 DAS), a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from 47108884@N07's photostream
I’m not an engineer, but I can’t stop watching this hypnotic and oddly satisfying video of tying rebar.
The Australian Acoustic Observatory project, described by its creators as a kind of “Google Street View of sound,” is a new acoustic sensor network of hundreds of microphones and digital audio recorders distributed across multiple remote ecosystems on the continent. The solar-powered system will record animal and natural sounds continuously for 5 years. According to […]
Is your brain a machine? Are your thoughts and feelings just malware of the mind? (And what “really” is a machine, anyway?) John and Eva referee the transhumanist fight of the century. In the blue corner, we have Eva meeting founder and Bryan Johnson, CEO of Kernel, straight from his office in LA. And in […]
Who are these people that have time for a job, social life, and actual healthy meals? With a nutrition segment on seemingly every talk show and entire networks devoted to food, it can sometimes seem like we’ve never left our mother’s house and her constant admonitions to “eat your vegetables!” And okay, she was right. […]
Every Christmas list has names you dread buying for. But hold up: Before you wave the white flag and get them yet another gift card, scroll down a few. We’ve got 15 items that run the gamut from stylish old-school lighters to cutting-edge audio tech, enough variety to please any Scrooge. And the best part? […]
We’re living in the age of Big Data. As the driving force behind everything from Google’s famed algorithms to self-driving cars, massive sets of complex data can be found at the heart of some of today’s most exciting and important technologies. The Ultimate SQL Bootcamp Certification Bundle will give you the skills and tools you […]