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One ongoing project is a collaboration with Henrik   compatible with the warm, wet and noisy environment of a
          Mouritsen, a biologist at the University of Oldenburg   magnetoreceptor cell.
          in Germany. When tested on the university campus in
          Oldenburg, migratory European robins are incapable of   It would be nice to get to the bottom of this least
          using their magnetic compass unless they are efficiently   understood of sensory mechanisms, and better still if
          shielded from the very weak electromagnetic fields   practical applications emerged along the way. In the last few
          (“electrosmog”) generated by electrical equipment in the   years it has been found that semiconductors constructed
          nearby laboratories. In the countryside, a few miles outside   entirely from non-magnetic organic materials exhibit room-
          the city, the same birds orient perfectly well. Even though   temperature changes in their current and light output that
          it is clear that radical pair chemistry can be influenced   can be tuned by weak, externally applied magnetic fields.
          by time-dependent magnetic fields, it is astonishing that   The spin physics behind these effects is essentially identical
          such weak electromagnetic noise — at a level below the   to the radical pair mechanism, with polarons playing the
          World Health Organization’s recommendations for safe   role of the radicals. With “bio-inspiration” gleaned from
          human exposure — could disrupt the behaviour of a   studies of the bird-compass it may be possible to make
          higher vertebrate. The challenge is now to determine the   cheap, electronically addressable magnetic sensors from
          origin of the effect using a combination of behavioural   non-toxic organic materials. As a first step in this direction,
          studies, laboratory experiments on cryptochromes, and   the Manolopoulos group has recently made considerable
          computational modelling. We hope that electrosmog   inroads into understanding the detailed relation between
          disorientation will provide powerful insights into the inner   magnetoelectroluminescence and magnetoconductance in
          working of the compass sense.                      organic light emitting diodes.

          Other work is supported by the Air Force Office of   One thing that comes out of all of this is that the
          Scientific Research which is concerned about the American   disparaging term “bird brain” should more correctly
          military’s over-reliance on global positioning systems.   be regarded as a compliment. Birds may not have a
          In one project, we have shown that the radical form of   SatNav capability but they could well “know” a bit more
          the flavin chromophore in cryptochrome has magnetic   chemistry (and quantum mechanics) than anyone realized:
          interactions that could result in the protein being a much   ChemNav, perhaps?
          better compass than previously thought. The hyperfine
          interactions in the flavin radical are such that the quantum   * See Hore and Mouritsen, Annu. Rev. Biophys. 45 (2016) 299–344,
          oscillations of the spin-coherence can be exquisitely   in which we attempt to explain the physics and chemistry of radical
          sensitive to the direction of the geomagnetic field. All   pair magnetoreception to biologists and the biology and chemistry
                                                             to physicists. k T , Boltzmann’s constant multiplied by temperature,
          we have to do now is to establish whether the conditions   is the the energy associated with the ever-present random motions of
          necessary for the realisation of this “quantum needle” are   molecules as they bump into one another, rotate, and vibrate.

                                              Launch of ChemBioPlants network

                                              2016 saw the launch of a new network to bring together researchers from the
                                              Departments of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Plant Sciences. ChemBioPlants
                                              aims to foster and support new collaborations at the interface of these disciplines,
                                              providing a forum through which researchers can explore ideas and identify
                                              projects where complementary approaches will be advantageous. By combining
                                              expertise, such interdisciplinary research will be able to help address issues of global
                                              importance such as food security, sustainable agriculture, exploitation of plant
                                              natural products, bioenergy and the relationship between food and health.
            Two networking events held so far this year have been very successful, with short talks and poster sessions from across the
            departments revealing the breadth of excellent research going on in Oxford as well as highlighting multiple opportunities to work
            together. Importantly, the network has been able to provide small grants to kick-start new collaborative projects, all of which are
            now under way. Further events will take place on a termly basis, and a website is being developed as a portal to access research
            interests across the network, as well as news, funding opportunities and research success stories.

                                                            The Magazine of the Department of Chemistry
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