Abstract

Coherence phenomena arise from interference, or the addition, of wave-like amplitudes with fixed phase differences. Although coherence has been shown to yield transformative ways for improving function, advances have been confined to pristine matter and coherence was considered fragile. However, recent evidence of coherence in chemical and biological systems suggests that the phenomena are robust and can survive in the face of disorder and noise. Here we survey the state of recent discoveries, present viewpoints that suggest that coherence can be used in complex chemical systems, and discuss the role of coherence as a design element in realizing function.

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Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge the Division of Chemical Sciences, Geosciences and Biosciences, Office of Basic Energy Sciences of the US Department of Energy. We thank M. Spitler and J. Krause for leading the organization of the Basic Energy Sciences workshop on ‘Optimal Coherence in Chemical and Biophysical Dynamics’. G.D.S. thanks E. Sorensen for explaining electrophilic aromatic substitution reactions. We thank E. D. Foszcz for providing Fig. 5c. We thank L. T. Rumbles for improving the manuscript.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Chemistry, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA

    • Gregory D. Scholes
  2. Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley and Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California 94720, USA

    • Graham R. Fleming
  3. Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division, Argonne National Laboratory, Lemont, Illinois 60439, USA

    • Lin X. Chen
  4. Department of Chemistry, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA

    • Lin X. Chen
  5. Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Alán Aspuru-Guzik
  6. Institute of Physics, Albert-Ludwigs-Universitaet Freiburg, D-79104 Freiburg, Germany

    • Andreas Buchleitner
  7. Department of Chemistry, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA

    • David F. Coker
  8. Department of Chemistry, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA

    • Gregory S. Engel
  9. Department of Physics and Astronomy, VU University Amsterdam, 1081HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    • Rienk van Grondelle
  10. Institute for Molecular Science, National Institutes of Natural Sciences, Myodaiji, Okazaki 444-8585, Japan

    • Akihito Ishizaki
  11. Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA

    • David M. Jonas
  12. Department of Physics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5, Canada

    • Jeff S. Lundeen
  13. Department of Chemistry, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA

    • James K. McCusker
  14. Departments of Chemistry and Physics and Astronomy, University of California—Irvine, Irvine, California 92697, USA

    • Shaul Mukamel
  15. Department of Physics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA

    • Jennifer P. Ogilvie
  16. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK

    • Alexandra Olaya-Castro
  17. Department of Chemistry, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA

    • Mark A. Ratner
  18. Department of Chemistry, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19122, USA

    • Frank C. Spano
  19. Department of Chemistry, University of California—Berkeley, California 94720, USA

    • K. Birgitta Whaley
  20. Chemical Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California 94720, USA

    • K. Birgitta Whaley
  21. Department of Chemistry, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, USA

    • Xiaoyang Zhu

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Contributions

L.X.C. proposed the workshop to the Department of Energy Council for Chemical and Biochemical Sciences. G.D.S. and G.R.F. wrote the paper with substantive input from all co-authors. All the authors formulated and discussed the content of the paper and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Gregory D. Scholes or Graham R. Fleming.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks C. Lienau, A. Troisi and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature21425

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