Leverhulme Quantum Biology Doctoral Training Centre

The University of Surrey’s new Leverhulme Quantum Biology Doctoral Training Centre (QB DTC) is the world’s first centre dedicated to training interdisciplinary scientists in the field of quantum biology, and will fund up to seven PhD studentships a year.

About the centre

Recent research has established that quantum mechanics plays a key role in biological processes such as photosynthesis, respiration, enzyme action, olfaction, bird navigation, mutation and maybe even the way we think. Quantum biology is the study of these quantum underpinnings of biology, and its advance requires a new generation of scientists who can work across discipline boundaries.

With the support of the Leverhulme Trust, the University of Surrey has established the world’s first Doctoral Training Centre for Quantum Biology which will train a new generation of scientists who can operate across the boundaries of biology, chemistry and quantum physics to pioneer research in quantum biology.

The Centre will recruit up to seven PhD students a year, for the next three years, with each student undertaking a three-year interdisciplinary training and research programme. Studentships will be offered for both theoretical and experimental projects, in a range of areas from photosynthesis to molecular mechanisms of olfaction, mutation, nanobiotechnology, synthetic biology and many other topics. Find out more about our PhD studentships at the University of Surrey.

PhD students within the Centre will have access to a range of facilities across the University of Surrey including the £12m Innovation for Health Learning Laboratory (where the Centre is located) and ion beam proton irradiation and mass spectrometry facilities within the Advanced Technology Institute.

Highly accurate measurement plays a crucial role in quantum biology, and the Centre will draw on Surrey’s strategic partnership with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and University of Strathclyde. Students will benefit from seminars and workshops run by the UK Centre for Postgraduate Training in Measurement Science and Surrey’s successful EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Micro and Nano Materials & Technologies.

The Leverhulme QB DTC is headed up by highly respected academics from Surrey’s School of Biological Sciences and Department of Physics. It is led by Centre Directors Johnjoe McFadden, Professor of Molecular Genetics, and Jim Al-Khalili, Professor of Physics. Both academics are at the forefront of this emerging field and co-wrote the first popular science book on the subject, Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology, which was published in 2014.

What is quantum biology?

A rapidly emerging field which combines biology, chemistry and quantum physics, quantum biology reveals the fascinating role quantum science plays in the natural world.

Evidence is growing that quantum mechanics (where particles can be in two places at once, be connected over huge distances, or travel through otherwise impenetrable barriers) is at the heart of a number of processes found in nature. This novel and exciting science – quantum biology – could open up new approaches to solar energy, drugs or new diagnostics, or improve our understanding of how the brain works. It may even hold the key to building revolutionary new quantum computers.

The theory of quantum biology was first outlined in 1944 by Erwin Shrödinger in his book ‘What is Life’, but lay virtually dormant for half a century. This was because quantum mechanics were thought to be relevant only to the tiniest particles of matter such as protons, electrons or photons.

Experiments in the last two decades, however, have proved that quantum mechanics do play a role in nature. Scientists have found that plants use a form of quantum computing to calculate how best to direct energy through their photosynthetic apparatus, and there is firm evidence that enzymes – which drive much of the action in our cells – use a process known as quantum tunnelling to accelerate chemical reactions.

Studentship opportunities

The Leverhulme QB DTC invites applications from excellent candidates for seven fully funded PhD studentships, covering fees and maintenance, for October 2018 entry.

These exciting studentship opportunities will span a wide range of topics, from molecular biology to biochemistry and nanotechnology to quantum physics.

To find out more or make an application for a quantum biology studentship, go to our BiosciencesChemistryPhysics and ATI PhD programme pages.

Further reading

Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology

A quantum mechanical model of adaptive mutations, J. McFadden and J.S. Al-Khalili, BioSystems 50 (1999) 203–211.

Enzyme dynamics and hydrogen tunnelling in a thermophilic alcohol dehydrogenase. Kohen, A., Cannio, R., Bartolucci, S., & Klinman, J. P. (1999). Nature, 399(6735), 496.

Resonance effects indicate a radical-pair mechanism for avian magnetic compass. Ritz, T., Thalau, P., Phillips, J. B., Wiltschko, R., & Wiltschko, W. (2004). Nature, 429(6988), 177.

Atomic description of an enzyme reaction dominated by proton tunneling. Masgrau, L., Roujeinikova, A., Johannissen, L. O., Hothi, P., Basran, J., Ranaghan, K. E., ... & Leys, D. (2006). Science, 312(5771), 237-241.

Evidence for wavelike energy transfer through quantum coherence in photosynthetic systems. Engel, G. S., Calhoun, T. R., Read, E. L., Ahn, T. K., Mančal, T., Cheng, Y. C., ... & Fleming, G. R. (2007). Nature, 446(7137), 782.

Molecular vibration-sensing component in Drosophila melanogaster olfaction. Franco, M. I., Turin, L., Mershin, A., & Skoulakis, E. M. (2011). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(9), 3797-3802.

Environment-induced dephasing versus von Neumann measurements in proton tunneling, A.D. Godbeer, J.S. Al-Khalili, and P.D. Stevenson, Phys. Rev. A 90 (2014) 012102.

Modelling proton tunnelling in the adenine–thymine base pair, AD. Godbeer, J.S. Al-Khalili and P.D. Stevenson, Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. 17 (2015) 13034-13044.

The origins of quantum biology, J McFadden and J.S. Al-Khalili, submitted to Proc. Royal Soc. A (2018).