U.S. theoretical chemists, who calculate how quantum mechanics govern electron motion, were surprised when they added water to their models.


Scientists at Duke University in Durham, N.C., discovered a scant handful of water molecules positioned in the nearly infinitesimal gap between two docking proteins creates unexpectedly favorable conditions for electrons to tunnel from one protein to another.



The work delves into puzzling guidelines of physics that chemistry professor David Beratan and postdoctoral researchers Jianping Lin and Ilya Balabin said nature has to follow in order to harness energy and avoid disease.



Electrons have dual characteristics, sometimes acting like billiard balls and sometimes like waves on a pond, Beratan said. As a consequence, electrons do very peculiar things. One thing they can do is tunnel through barriers forbidden to them under the ‘classical’ rules of physics.



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