Probing the Quantum Nature of the Avian Compass

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Physics and Astronomy


Many animals use Earths magnetic field as an aid for navigation. For several species of birds the evidence points to a compass based on the quantum properties of the electronic spin [1]. However, these compass spins will not only experience Earth's magnetic field but must also interact strongly with the hot and wet biological environment [2].

The precise workings of the birds' compass remain a topic of debate, but analysing data from behavioural studies already allows us to extract some of its surprising properties, and we have recently predicted world-record spin coherence times [2]. Recent experimental studies confirm the extraordinary sensitivity of the bird's compass to tiny electromagnetic field fluctuations [3, 4], and thus underline the need for a better theoretical understanding of this biological quantum system.

In this project you will be developing theoretical models of the physical properties of a radical pair of spins in a condensed matter environment. This will be accomplished by applying and developing non-Markovian open quantum systems techniques. The goal of this project will be to understand how the exceptionally long-lived quantum coherence may survive in the messy physical environment surrounding the core compass unit, and to develop experimentally testable predictions.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509590/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1965467 Studentship EP/N509590/1 01/10/2017 31/03/2021 Alexandre Coates