Researchers have been investigating the mechanism which enables birds to detect the Earth’s magnetic field to help them navigate over vast distances. This ability, known as magnetoreception, has been linked to chemical reactions inside birds’ eyes.
Now a team from Oxford University and Singapore believe that this ‘compass’ is making use of something called quantum coherence.
In a forthcoming article in Physical Review Letters the team report how they anaylsed data from an experiment by Oxford and Frankfurt scientists on robins.
The experiment showed that the magnetic compass used by robins could be distrupted by extremely small levels of magnetic ‘noise’. When this noise, a tiny oscillating magnetic field, was introduced it completely disabled the Robins’ compass sense which then returned to normal once the noise was removed – good news for robins which have to navigate on the long migration route to Scandinavia and Africa and back every year.
In their analysis the Oxford/Singapore team show that only a system with components operating at a quantum level would be this sensitive to such a small amount of noise.