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Taking a quantum leap into life

by Evan | Sep 13, 2017
Book Review:  Life on the Edge by Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili

Life on the EdgeCertain core mysteries of life -- such as how it first started, how enzymes work, or how a bunch of molecules can be conscious -- have been very hard for scientists to understand. Classical physics, thermodynamics, and organic chemistry have so far come up short.  Starting in the late  20th century, however, a new approach has begun to show promise: quantum biology.

The idea is that life is different from non-life because it is tied to the weirdness of the sub-atomic world in ways that rocks and water and other inanimate things are not. Life goes beyond the rules of Newtonian physics deep into quantum realities most of us can barely comprehend. 

For instance, the earth's magnetic fields may trigger minute quantum effects in the brains of European robins that guide them on migrations across thousands of miles. The magnetic fields are too weak to trigger the kinds of chemical changes that normally affect living things, but quantum effects are much more sensitive. 

Don't take my unsophisticated word for it; read Life on the Edge by biologist Johnjoe McFadden and physicist Jim Al-Khalili.  It is one of the first books on the subject but is only three years old. The authors will hold your hand quite firmly as they guide you through both evidence and speculation about the strange abilities of protons and electrons. They provide new clues to questions that have confounded lifetimes of  biological study. 

Life on the Edge is, of course, only one of thousands of science books we own. They exist to help you understand what scientists are constantly discovering about how the universe works. One reason your library exists is to make that knowledge available to you. Let us know what we can help you understand. 


EvanEvan - Married, three children, two grandchildren, formerly a newspaper journalist, now a public librarian, at all times a board game nut.

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