Via Physics Today
: Does new physics lurk inside living matter?
by Paul Davies
(Regents’ Professor in the physics department at Arizona State University in Tempe and the director of the university’s Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science).
The link between information and physics has been implicit since James Clerk Maxwell introduced his famous demon. Information is now emerging as a key concept to bridge physics and biology.
To a physicist, life looks like magic. Living things accomplish feats so dazzling, so enigmatic, that it’s easy to forget they are made of ordinary atoms. But if the secret of life is not the stuff of which living things are made, then what is it? What gives organisms that distinctive Úlan that sets them apart as remarkable and special? That was the question posed by Erwin Schrödinger in a famous series of lectures delivered in Dublin, Ireland, in 1943, and published the following year as an influential book titled What Is Life?
Schrödinger was a giant of theoretical physics and one of the founders of quantum mechanics, the most successful scientific theory ever conceived, both in terms of applications and accuracy. For example, when applied to the electromagnetic field, it correctly predicts the anomalous magnetic moment of the electron to better than 10 significant figures. Almost at a stroke, quantum mechanics explained the nature of inanimate matter, from subatomic particles, through atoms and molecules, to stars. But, frustratingly, it didn’t explain living matter. And despite spectacular advances in biology in the intervening decades, life remains a mystery. Nobody can say for sure what it is or how it began...