This is big news because up until this point physicists believed that quantum effects were only relevant at the sub atomic-scale. For those of you without pocket protectors, this means that things are pretty strange inside atoms, with particles not really here or there but defined by their probability that they will be here or there (see Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle). Furthermore, particles can have a strange kinship with one another called entanglement in which they are directly linked in real-time across space.
According to physics up to this point, in the macro world (anything larger than an atom), things exist in only one place and time and communications have a speed limit of the speed of light, so no entanglement allowed. The prevailing wisdom was that the size and chaos of the macro world masked the quantum behaviors of the sub-atomic world (see decoherence).
The new research from UC Berkeley blows the lid off of that thinking. They have observed entanglement in bacteria that engage in photosynthesis. Bacteria might not seem large but they’re huge on the atomic scale. The observed entanglement only lasts for picosecond timescales, but that’s enough to cause a chemical reaction and to measure it using standard spectroscopy.
This basic research and the finding that quantum states can exist in macro systems without decoherence can be used directly to build bio-quantum photo cells that use natural processes to create energy at nearly 100% efficiency, obsolescing the problematic photovoltaic cells that are now state-of-the art.
Further study of the mechanics of photosynthesis combined with these findings could result in the creation of trees that produced gasoline from sunlight and the CO2 in the air. As a thought exercise, a gasoline tree with an effective area of 100 m2 would produce about 3 gallons per hour of direct sunlight.
The findings also have wide-ranging implications for research on batteries, drugs and life sciences, and even the nature of consciousness and thought. The latter essentially inexplicable using conventional physics and theoretically quite compatible with quantum processes.