Do there exist complex molecular nanostructures whose behavior is dependent upon intrinsically quantum-mechanical phenomena, such as coherence and entanglement, and which are relevant to biological processes? This is a Big Question of great scientific interest, to which this project is dedicated. Complex molecular networks play central roles in biology. Prime examples are the flow of electronic energy in the molecular structures responsible for photosynthesis and the flow of electric charge through biological structures or engineered devices such as molecular-electronics circuits or solar-energy harvesters. A necessary step towards addressing the Big Question is to design and study well-controlled model systems that mimic or simulate energy flow in complex molecular networks. An international team of scientists will apply expertise from a range of scientific areas to construct ‘quantum-effect simulators,’ capable of physically modeling energy transport. We will study two classes of simulators: molecular model systems and optical model systems. The goal is to elucidate quantum mechanisms occurring in the simulator systems that potentially exist in naturally occurring complex molecular networks. An important sub-question is, “Can the presence of strongly coupled molecular vibrations and/or environmental noise enhance the efficiency of energy flow in complex molecular networks?” A delicate interplay between electronic and vibrational motion has been predicted by theory and observed in experiments in which the vibrational motion remains coherent longer than does the electronic motion, but it is not known if this interplay leads to an increased energy flow rate. Deliverables will include published research journal articles and popular review articles in magazines or newspapers, as well as written summaries of team-led annual workshops. The likely impact of this project will be to introduce a new approach to studying quantum systems of high complexity.
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