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Terahertz Could Shed New Light On Physics Of Life

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A new light source developed by scientists at the University of Liverpool could help explain the biological organisation of all living things.

Physicists will launch an ultra-high intensity terahertz (THz) beamline on a particle accelerator at Daresbury Laboratory next year, which they believe will further study into how living things are organised and how they respond to their environment.

Professor Peter Weightman, from the University’s Department of Physics, will present ‘The Physics of Life’ at the BA Festival of Science next week, which will explore how the THz beamline could help scientists answer fundamental questions about the origin of life on earth.

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THz is a source of radiation that emits the same kind of energy as ‘Free Energy’, available from the environment at room temperature. This is the temperature at which living things exchange energy with the environment and so scientists believe that THz could be the best tool for studying how living things interact with the environment.

Professor Weightman explains: “Thermodynamics is the study of how energy moves and instils movement in physical systems and could be the best method to understand how living things have evolved. The THz beamline will help us in the study of non-equilibrium thermodynamics, which is the study of how ‘Free Energy’ – such as energy from the sun – flows through systems and fosters their organisation.

“Just after the ‘Big Bang’ the universe was in equilibrium; this means that there was no ‘Free Energy’ and therefore no living things. How living things came into existence from this state of equilibrium is still a mystery to scientists, because the survival of a species depends on its relationship with other living things and the environment.

“This area of study will become more important in the future due to the problems posed by climate change and the possible loss of biological diversity. Life will only be sustained if the demands it places on the environment are compatible with environmental resources.”