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Reality's NeverEnding Story
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Fighting decoherence to scale up quantum technologies.

Q&A with David Rideout: Testing Reality in Space
Satellite experiments could soon investigate the boundaries of quantum physics and relativity.

April 23, 2014

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TOPIC: Quantum Biology: Flight and Sniffery [refresh]
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FQXi Administrator Zeeya Merali wrote on Feb. 5, 2013 @ 14:05 GMT
Another discussion thread for January’s podcast, this time on quantum biology. This item also deserves a thread of its own because its been in the news quite a bit over the past few weeks.

To recap, in last May’s podcast, I chatted to Luca Turin, who has proposed a controversial quantum model for our sense of smell. The idea is that the our nose differentiates smell based on a molecule’s vibrations, rather than (as conventionally believed) its shape. In that interview, Turin alluded to some tests he was running on humans to see if their noses could pick out a difference in the smell of two molecules with the same shape, but different vibration frequencies. Last week, his work was published in PLoS ONE. The answer is "yes".

I just want to point you to some nice coverage of Turin’s work, as well as of quantum biology in general, over at the BBC, by Jason Palmer. Here’s his article on the new smell result, and another, co-written by Alex Mansfield, on the whole emerging field of quantum biology. The article also describes models that suggest that some birds use quantum effects to navigate. You can also hear the researchers talking to reporter Carinne Piekema about quantum birds in our own January podcast.

For those of you that enjoy listening to scientists speaking in their own words, I must also draw your attention to this nice edition of the BBC World Service’s Discovery programme (here: January 28 edition) because it opens with a snippet from Erwin Schroedinger. We can’t compete with that on the FQXi podcast!

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Domenico Oricchio wrote on Feb. 5, 2013 @ 19:05 GMT
I tried, some time ago, an Innocentive challenge to detect the sick passengers in airport: as always I lost.

The interesting thing is that I try to build a little spectrograph to analize the interferons in the air.

Each molecule emit some infrared thermical emission with functional groups.

The idea was to built little solar cell, with doping to obtain the right light absorbment: one for u_1 frequency, and the other for u_2 frequency; if connected in opposite direction (pass band infrared filter), there is a mean activation only for frequency intervall [u1,u2].

I think that the noise work in a similar way: there is an activation for a right range of frequency, to detect the functional group; this is the only information that is useful for the life, and it is similar to the vision.

I think that the first sense is olfaction: virus chemical identification of the chemical environment.

I don't think that the evolution thrown away nothing that work, so that if the olfaction is one of first sense, then the other must use similar mechanism (the visual perception like olfaction of the light?Have they similar genetic?)

I read the Turin idea of the chemosensor, his idea is similar, but use the tunneling: there is contact.

If the olfaction work without contact, then there is an infrared recognition (I think that can be verified with in vitro chemosensor with physical separation to avoid tunneling).

Quantum biology is an interesting topic, because is the intersection between physics, biology and nanotechnology; it is so boring to study a single topic!



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John Merryman wrote on Feb. 6, 2013 @ 02:10 GMT
An interesting and related finding on hearing:

"(—For the first time, physicists have found that humans can discriminate a sound's frequency (related to a note's pitch) and timing (whether a note comes before or after another note) more than 10 times better than the limit imposed by the Fourier uncertainty principle. Not surprisingly, some of the subjects with the best listening precision were musicians, but even non-musicians could exceed the uncertainty limit. The results rule out the majority of auditory processing brain algorithms that have been proposed, since only a few models can match this impressive human performance."

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FQXi Administrator Zeeya Merali replied on Feb. 6, 2013 @ 16:39 GMT
Thanks James. I hadn't heard of that relationship for sound before. I've tweeted that article now -- some nice sound clips on it too.

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Robert H McEachern replied on Feb. 6, 2013 @ 23:20 GMT

This is hardly "the first time..."

I published numerous papers on this subject twenty years ago.

See for example:

"Hearing it like it is: Audio Signal Processing the Way the Ear Does It", DSP Applications, February, 1994

"Hearing it like it is Part 2: Sound Demodulation via Parallel Filter Banks", DSP and Multimedia Technology, May 1994.

Those papers also give references to my earlier papers and patents on the subject.

You may recall that the Fourier uncertainty principle, and how to get around it, was also discussed in my essay submitted to the last FQXI essay contest.

Rob McEachern

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John Merryman replied on Feb. 7, 2013 @ 00:19 GMT

It's good to hear from you. May I suggest you send Zeeya a note suggesting it as a topic. There are many aspects of physics which are being ignored, or overlooked and your contest entry was very enlightening. The more voices and subjects raised, the more likely the science media, of which Zeeya is a member, will begin to realize physics has been sidetracked by a somewhat dubious canon.

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