Magnetic Field Sensing

Migratory songbirds can perceive the Earth’s magnetic field for the purpose of navigating their exceptional voyages or orienting in their local habitats. One particular modality of this sense, a magnetic inclination compass, is thought to rely on magnetically sensitive radical pairs formed photochemically in cryptochrome proteins in the animal’s retinae. This process is a striking example of a truly quantum mechanical process in sensory biology. It necessitates long-lived electron spin coherences in the radical pair.

An important requirement of this hypothesis is that the electron spin relaxation is slow enough for the Earth’s magnetic field to have a significant effect on the coherent spin dynamics of the transient radical pair. This proposal aims to elucidate spin relaxation pathways based on a comprehensive analysis of the thermally induced motions in the radicals and their surroundings.

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