press release
Published: 08 June 2023

The university making quantum science more accessible 

The way plants capture sunlight, the way birds use a built-in compass when they migrate and the way our DNA makes use of atoms being in two places at once are all examples of the exciting new field of quantum biology. 

Researchers at the University of Surrey are demonstrating these remarkable processes with visual, interactive and fun demonstrations to be displayed in the Discover Zone of the Cheltenham Science Festival.  

The first demo shows how atoms can move inside living cells in a way that would not be possible without the help of quantum shortcuts called quantum tunnelling, through an interactive game of mini golf. 

The second demo allows the public to guess the “correct” route sunlight takes in a photosynthesis “slot machine” showing that the most efficient way for it to reach its destination is to follow all possible routes at once.   

The third demo looks at bird migration by using toy magnetic birds to show how quantum mechanics allows them to “see” the Earth’s magnetic field lines to charter courses between their breeding and wintering grounds.  

Professor Jim Al-Khalili, the co-director of the Leverhulme Doctoral Training Centre for Quantum Biology, University of Surrey commented on the festival demonstrations: 

“Our centre is the first of its kind in the world to train interdisciplinary scientists in the field of quantum biology. And yet, the quantum world is still largely unexplored. By researching the effects of quantum mechanics in the natural world, using examples from biology, we can help explain processes that have otherwise baffled scientists for decades.  

“By appearing at the Cheltenham Science Festival, we are looking to make the field of quantum biology more accessible to the general public through simple demonstrations. It is important to showcase this new field of research that can inspire people of all ages, especially as it grows in importance in the coming years.” 


Funding for these demonstrations has come as part of a grant by the John Templeton Foundation, supporting a 3-year project at the University of Surrey on what biology can reveal about the nature of time, including the “arrow of time” and its reversibility.  

The University of Surrey team, as well as Professor Jim Al-Khalili will be attending the Cheltenham Science Festival with demonstrations set up in the Discover Zone from 6-11 June 2023. 




Notes to Editors 

  • Professor Jim Al-Khalili is available for interview upon request 

  • Contact the University press office via 

Media Contacts

Katherine Ingram
Media Officer (Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences)

External Communications and PR team
Phone: +44 (0)1483 684380 / 688914 / 684378
Out of hours: +44 (0)7773 479911