Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Life on the Edge by Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili

We've known quantum mechanics as an essential aspect of physics but now it seems it has a crucial role in biological science as well. Quantum biology is a small but growing field of scientists investigating the weird quantum properties at the edge between the quantum and classical worlds.

The authors have done a good job of giving background information on the basics of quantum behavior, including a history of discoveries and theories, to help us understand it. They then introduce us to the various studies in quantum biology. We read about particles being able to tunnel in enzymatic reactions. While much needs to be resolved in this area, “There is no doubt that quantum tunneling plays a role in the way they work.” (97)

We also read about molecules doing a “quantum walk,” traveling all possible routes simultaneously. Then we learn about spin and entanglement. Some areas may involve quantum mechanics, like genetic mutations, but much more investigation is needed before that is confirmed.

The science of quantum biology is such a quickly moving field that the authors suggest that the book would be a little out of date by the time it was published. Nonetheless, this is a great introduction of the subject for the layperson. Yes, any topic related to quantum mechanics is going to be hard to understand. The concepts are not intuitive and generally go against our everyday experience.

The authors do a good job of using illustrations and comparisons to make the concepts easier to comprehend. My favorite illustration was of a robber, known to be in a certain neighborhood. Police, studying the robber's method and the items stolen, can predict the probability the robber will be in certain areas. That illustration really helped me grasp the concept of the probability of a particle's location as opposed to it having a pin pointed location.

I recommend this book to people who enjoy reading about cutting edge scientific investigations and discovery. Don't let the quantum mechanics aspect of the book deter you. These authors have done a superb job of making the concepts understandable to non-scientists.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Johnjoe McFadden is a professor of molecular genetics at the University of Surrey and is the editor of leading textbooks on both molecular biology and systems biology of tuberculosis.
Jim Al-Khalili, OBE, is an academic, author and broadcaster. He is the leading theoretical physicist based at the University of Surrey, where he teaches and carries out research in quantum mechanics.

Crown Publishers, 368 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publishers for the purpose of an independent and honest review.
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