Brown Professor of Physics Vesna Mitrović and Brown colleagues have been awarded a 2021 Seed Research Award for a project entitled, “Reverse Engineering the Synaptic Cleft - the Search for Quantum Information Processing in the Brain.”

The interdisciplinary team assembled by Professor Mitrović proposes to test theoretical physicist M. Fisher’s theory that the fundamental principle of complex brain operation is quantum processing involving nuclear spins of phosphorus as a neural qubit. Fisher identified a hypothetical “Posner molecule” as one that can protect neural qubits very long times and thereby serve as a working quantum memory. 

The group’s novel approach involves harnessing the properties of nuclear spins to study quantum information processing (QIS) in the brain by reverse-engineering specific polymers and biomolecules to provide sufficiently long coherence times required for quantum processing. This is orthogonal to Fisher’s approach which focuses on the search for the Posner molecule. 

Team members include Tayhas Palmore, the Elaine I. Savage Professor of Engineering and Professor of Chemistry, as well as Assistant Professor of Neuroscience Edward Walsh. Palmore plans to synthesize polymer-based biomaterials with appropriate nuclear spin species, while  Mitrović and Walsh will use the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technique to test possible coherence propagation and test whether such bio-materials can be used as a quantum register to process information. 
The group’s long-term goal is to identify essential biomaterial properties required for QIS and quantum signal transmission using nuclear spins of phosphorus with an ultimate goal of synthesizing artificial neural synapses and memory registers.