College of Sciences Colloquium
Avian Magnetoreception: A Quantum Compass Needle
Prof. Dr. Peter J. Hore, Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford
Most physical scientists would probably be sceptical about the suggestion that a chemical reaction could respond to a magnetic field as weak as that of the Earth. After all, the interaction of a molecule with a ca. 50 mT magnetic field is more than a million times smaller than kBT at room temperature. Nevertheless, the kinetics of certain chemical reactions are magnetically sensitive. The key molecular species are pairs of transient free radicals whose electron-nuclear spin systems evolve coherently under the influence of internal and external magnetic interactions.
In this talk, I will discuss the proposal that the coherent quantum spin-dynamics of photo-induced radical pairs in cryptochromes (photo-active proteins) could be the mechanism of the light-dependent magnetic compass sense of migratory birds.*
*The radical-pair mechanism of magnetoreception, J. Hore and H. Mouritsen, Annu. Rev. Biophys., 45 (2016) 299-344.