Polypeptide Interferometry @ Nature Communications


"Matter-wave interference of a native polypeptide"

The de Broglie wave nature of matter is a paradigmatic example of fundamental quantum physics and enables precise measurements of forces, fundamental constants and even material properties. However, even though matter-wave interferometry is nowadays routinely realized in many laboratories, this feat has remained an outstanding challenge for the vast class of native polypeptides, the building blocks of life, which are ubiquitous in biology but fragile and difficult to handle. Here, we demonstrate the quantum wave nature of gramicidin, a natural antibiotic composed of 15 aminoacids. Femtosecond laser desorption of a thin biomolecular film with intensities up to 1 TW/cm2 transfers these molecules into a cold noble gas jet. Even though the peptide’s de Broglie wave-length is as tiny as 350 fm, the molecular coherence is delocalized over more than 20 times themolecular size in our all-optical time-domain Talbot-Lau interferometer. We compare the observed interference fringes for two different interference orders with a model that includes both a rigorous treatment of the peptide’s quantum wave nature as well as a quantum chemical assessment of its optical properties to distinguish our result from classical predictions. The successful realization ofquantum optics with this polypeptide as a prototypical biomolecule paves the way for quantum-assisted molecule metrology and in particular the optical spectroscopy of a large class of biologically relevant molecules.