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Francesco Petruccione, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, was awarded an Innovation Fund grant in 2005 to set up a Centre for Quantum Technology and in 2007 was granted the South African Research Chair for Quantum Information Processing and Communication.

Petruccione has been working on the theory of open quantum systems, which is at the basis of many recent quantum technological applications. The miniaturisation of technological devices necessitates manipulation of objects at the nanoscale level at which coherent quantum mechanical processes start to dominate the physical properties.

The unavoidable interaction of these systems with their environment gives rise to dissipative mechanisms and a strong loss of quantum coherence, i.e. decoherence. Since perfect isolation of quantum systems is not possible, it is of central importance to incorporate the methods and tools of the theory of quantum systems in the exploration of quantum technologies. Among the basic tools of the new quantum technologies are quantum metrology, quantum control, quantum, communication and quantum computation.

In 2011 the Research Chair started to apply the theoretical methods of open quantum systems and quantum information processing to quantum biology. As the name suggests, quantum biology is the application of quantum mechanics to aspects of the biological sciences.

Recently, developments in experimental spectroscopy have for the first time revealed quantum effects in biological systems, including in the photosynthetic light-harvesting complexes of certain bacteria and marine algae. The energy transfer in photosynthetic complexes is achieved with an efficiency of 95%.

To understand how living systems, which are highly complex, warm and in constant interaction with the environment, can sustain and exploit quantum coherence, has huge implications for quantum engineering of technological devices.

Members of the Group, together with Professor A Ekert of the University of Oxford and the National University of Singapore, have suggested a mechanism that can help explain some of the experimental observations [I. Sinayskiy, A. Marais, F. Petruccione, A. Ekert, Phys. Rev. Lett. 108,020602 (2012)].

The Research Chair has been renewed for a further five years

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