Quantum decoherence and memory effects in the cellular environment

This theoretical physics project will attempt to pave the way to a deeper and more rigorous definition of the far from equilibrium properties of living systems, and to identify the source of the difference between living and non-living matter.

Start date
1 October 2021
3 years
Application deadline
Funding source
University of Surrey, Leverhulme Trust
Funding information
  • Full UK tuition fee covered
  • Stipend at £15,609 p.a.
  • Personal Computer (provided by the department)

This research project is one of a number of projects at this institution. It is in competition for funding with one or more of these projects. Usually the project which receives the best applicant will be awarded the funding.


Based on an open quantum system approach being developed in the group, this work will explore the quantum decoherence processes and determine whether there are features of the cellular environment that prevent decoherence from happening quickly and thereby ‘protect’ the quantum nature of the system of interest on biologically relevant time scales. Open quantum systems approach provide the ideal framework for studying how a quantum system interacts with its surroundings at finite temperature and allow for the study memory due this interaction. This will be generalised to incorporate the role of noise within the unique structure and dynamical properties of the cellular environment, which is likely to be important in biological and biochemical systems where fluctuations can occur on long timescales. The work will involve both analytical/mathematical and computational techniques. Dr Andrea Rocco is senior lecturer in physics and mathematical biology, with research interests in quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics and biological physics. Professor Jim Al-Khalili FRS is a theoretical physicist and co-director of the Leverhulme Doctoral Training Centre for Quantum Biology. Both Al-Khalili and Rocco already jointly supervise three PhD students in quantum biology and are the co-leaders on a new multidisciplinary/multi-institutional research programme based at Surrey called Life on the Edge: quantum thermodynamics, quantum biology and the arrow of time.

  1. Al-Khalili, J.S. and McFadden, J., Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology, Bantam Press (2014).
  2. R.P. Feynman and A.R. Hibbs Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals, McGraw-Hill, New York, (1965).
  3. H.P. Breuer and F. Petruccione, The Theory of Open Quantum systems, Oxford University Press (2002).
  4. Robert Zwanzig, Nonequilibrium Statistical Mechanics, Oxford University Press (2001).
  5. Caldeira AO, Leggett AJ. Path integral approach to quantum Brownian motion. Physica A: Statistical mechanics and its Applications. 121(3) (1983) 587-616.
  6. Strunz WT, Yu T. Convolutionless non-Markovian master equations and quantum trajectories: Brownian motion. Physical Review A69, 052115 (2004).
  7. Laskin, N., Fractional quantum mechanics and Lévy path integrals, Phys. Lett. A268, 298 (2000).
Related links
Leverhulme Quantum Biology Doctoral Training Centre Quantum Foundations Centre Uk Research and Innovation

Eligibility criteria

Applicants should have an undergraduate or masters degree in a relevant field such as physics, theoretical physics, or mathematical physics.

Applicants are welcomed from international students. 

English language requirements

IELTS minimum 6.5 overall with 6.0 in Writing, or equivalent.

How to apply

Applications should be submitted via the Quantum Biology programme page on the "Apply" tab. Please clearly state the studentship title and supervisor on your application. 

Application deadline

Contact details

Jim Al-Khalili
08 BB 03
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 686808
E-mail: J.Al-Khalili@surrey.ac.uk

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