I am currently reading the latest issue of Physics World. The current issues contains a series of captivating articles on the interface between physics and biology. One of them caught my attention: “The quantum life”. Life has always be problematic for us, physicists. Living organisms have long be regarded as magic entities, endowed with some obscure ‘life force’. Today, we know it’s no magic at all; living cells are merely made up of ordinary matter which do extraordinary things. This ordinary matter obeys the laws of physics. But then, why does life has so many astonishing characteristics?
In the 1940s and 1950s, physicists hoped that quantum mechanics would evolve to a point that the mystery of life could be explained. The founders of the quantum theory, boosted by successful prediction of the behaviour of non-living matter at atomic level, hoped that quantum mechanics would be powerful enough to explain the behaviour of living matter. 50 years later, this dream is yet to be fulfilled.
One big question is the problematic origin of life, which proves to be a stubborn mystery. How could the simplest known living organism, which is still astonishingly complex, arise by assembly of inanimate matter? These questions are still open, and this is what makes biophysics so interesting.
Davies, P., The quantum life. Physics World. Vol 22 No 7 July 2009, pp 24–28.