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Understanding and manipulating electronic quantum coherence in photosynthetic light-harvesting


Ultrafast spectroscopy experiments show that photosynthetic systems can preserve quantum beats in the process of electronic energy transfer between pigments, even at room temperature. But what does this discovery imply for biology - and for quantum mechanics? This dissertation examines photosynthesis through the tools of quantum information science. We evaluate to what extent photosynthesis can be thought of as a type of quantum technology, and consider how we can apply experimental tools widely used for quantum technologies (state tomography and coherent control) to photosynthesis. Throughout, we use the Fenna-Matthews-Olson (FMO) complex of greens sulfur bacteria as a model photosynthetic pigment-protein complex.

In Part I, we evaluate two mechanisms for the possible biological relevance of quantum coherent motion. First, we consider the extent to which dynamics in light-harvesting systems exhibit the quantum speedups characteristic of quantum algorithms and quantum walks. Second, we demonstrate a ratchet effect in electronic energy transfer enabled by partially coherent dynamics. To do so, we build a new model of energy transfer between weakly coupled light-harvesting complexes to understand how electronic coherence arises under natural conditions.

In Part II, we present proposals for experimental probes of light harvesting dynamics with ultrafast spectroscopy. We show how the signal from pump-probe spectroscopy can be formally inverted to determine the excited state electronic density matrix. Finally, we examine the feasiblity of coherent control experiments on light-harvesting systems, and provide two realistic targets feasible with present-day technology.

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