Jim Al-Khalili and Dr. Andrea Rocco of the University of Surrey will lead a major new $ 3 million research project that will focus on the fundamental nature of time and its potential to provide both scientific and philosophical insights into the quantum world.

The University of Surrey has received its largest ever philanthropic scholarship, funded by the John Templeton Foundation worth $ 3 million (£ 2.1 million) to lead a major new research project. The project focuses on the fundamental nature of time and its potential to provide both scientific and philosophical insights into the quantum world – the effects of which on life itself are being explored in the new field of quantum biology.

The project “Life on the Edge: Quantum Thermodynamics, Quantum Biology and the Arrow of Time” is led by Professor Jim Al-Khalili and Dr. Andrea Rocco from the University of Surrey. Professor Al-Khalili was recently awarded a CBE on the Queen’s Birthday Honors List for his outstanding contributions to science and public engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He is Professor of Theoretical Physics and Distinguished Chair in Physics at the University of Surrey as well as University Chair in Public Engagement in Science and a prominent author and broadcaster. Dr. Andrea Rocco, a theoretical physicist with extensive experience in nonlinear dynamics and statistical mechanics, is Senior Lecturer in Physics and Mathematical Biology at the University of Surrey.

The work will be completed in collaboration with colleagues from Arizona State University, the University of Bristol, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) and the University of Oxford.

Researchers from across the UK and the US will examine the complex interrelationship between the nature of time and the different ways in which the passage of time and quantum physics manifest in inanimate objects versus living organisms – with possible implications for understanding life itself. The project combines the disciplines of quantum physics, applied mathematics, computational chemistry, experimental molecular biology and philosophy of science.

The project aims to not only revolutionize ideas in basic research, but also to influence a wider audience and inspire young scientists through a series of events. There will be a series of meetings to attract international scholars to Blue Sky Thinking workshops, a program for schools and laypeople, and online content.

The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discovery into the deepest and most confusing questions of humanity. The foundation focuses its support on fellows who push the boundaries of understanding in a range of subjects in science, philosophy, and theology.

Three of the “Big Questions” that shaped Sir John Templeton’s vision and that astonish scientists and philosophers to this day are: What is the nature of reality? What is the essence of time? What is the nature of life? The central insight that drives the “Life on the Edge” project is that these profound questions are not independent of one another, but are different aspects of the same question: How does the arrow of time manifest itself in different systems and on different scales?

Professor Jim Al-Khalili of the University of Surrey said: “One of the most profound aspects of existence is the distinction between past and future, called the arrow of time. This self-evident “time asymmetry” is a defining characteristic of life: we are born, we get older and we die. Time never goes backwards for us, even if we sometimes wish we could turn back time. With this generous gift, our researchers will be able to study how quantum processes support the machinery of life. We hope to come closer to an answer to how and why life is so special: Is it the way in which living matter can use the time symmetry of the quantum domain that distinguishes it from inanimate matter? ”

Aamir Ali, program officer for mathematics and physics at the John Templeton Foundation, said: “The hypothesis that biological systems may have evolved to use quantum processes – and could serve as a new laboratory for basic physics – is kind of a ‘big question’ “Which fits perfectly with the foundation’s vision for our math and physics program. Jim and Andrea put together an excellent team and proposed not only an impressive research program, but also extensive public relations. Communicating scientific discoveries and the scientific process to a wider public is essential. We couldn’t be more excited to see how the results of this fellowship will come to fruition. ”


For more information, contact Simmie Korotane, Press Officer, [email protected]

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Notes for editors:

About the University of Surrey

The University of Surrey – a global community of ideas and people dedicated to life changing education and research. The University of Surrey is a research-intensive university dedicated to excellence in teaching and research, with an emphasis on hands-on educational programs that provide its students with a world-class experience that makes a positive contribution to society. It seeks to work in partnership with students, businesses, governments, and communities in the discovery and application of knowledge.

Via the John Templeton Foundation

Founded in 1987, the John Templeton Foundation supports research and dialogue on the deepest and most confusing questions facing humanity. The foundation funds work on topics ranging from black holes and evolution to creativity, forgiveness and free will. It also promotes civil, informed dialogue between scientists, philosophers, theologians and the general public.

With foundation assets of US $ 3.8 billion and annual donations of approximately US $ 140 million, the foundation is one of the 25 largest charitable foundations in the United States. Headquartered outside of Philadelphia, its philanthropic activities have spanned all major faith traditions and expanded to more than 190 countries around the world.


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