One of the most profound aspects of existence is the distinction between past and future, the so-called arrow of time. This self-evident time ‘asymmetry’ is a defining characteristic of life: we’re born, we grow older, and we die. Time never runs backwards for us (even if we sometime wish we could turn the clock back). However, time asymmetry is not evident down at the microscopic (atomic) level – rather, it is an ‘emergent’ property. This is the central issue we aim to tackle in this ambitious program of research; namely, how the time-symmetric micro-world transitions to the time asymmetric everyday world. To do this, we have assembled an interdisciplinary team from the UK and the US, with a vast range of expertise in theoretical and experimental physics, computational chemistry, molecular biology and the philosophy of science. The research is divided into five thematic areas, each tackling a different aspect of the problem, from the field of quantum thermodynamics to experimental quantum biology to the philosophical implications of time’s arrow. Surrey is already a world-leading centre in research into the new field of quantum biology, which explores whether life inhabits the boundary between the quantum and classical realms. Our research can revolutionize fundamental physics as well as inspire wider society through our planned global outreach program.
In addition to research workshops, we will bring together a network of international scientists at ‘Blue-Sky Thinking’ Workshops, to be held online in 2022, at Surrey in 2023, and at UCLA in 2024. Building on the experience and reputation in the public engagement in science of Project Leader, Al-Khalili, and team member, Paul Davies, we have also compiled an ambitious outreach program, both for schools and lay audiences, as well as online content. Another potential outcome of this project will be commissioning a television documentary series, along with popular science books and online resources.