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Chapter 24: Quantum Mechanics

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12

License: CC BY-NC 3.0

The Big Idea

Quantum Mechanics, discovered early in the 20th century, completely changed the way physicists think. Quantum Mechanics is the description of how the universe works on the very small scale. It turns out that we can't predict what will happen, but only the probabilities of certain outcomes. The uncertainty of quantum events is extremely important at the atomic level (and smaller levels) but not at the macroscopic level. In fact, there is a result called the correspondence principle that states that all results from quantum mechanics must agree with classical physics when quantum numbers are large -- that is, for objects with large mass. The foundation of quantum mechanics was developed on the observation of wave-particle duality.

Electromagnetic radiation is carried by particles, called photons, which interact with electrons. Depending on the experiment, photons can behave as particles or waves. The reverse is also true; electrons can also behave as particles or waves.

Because the electron has a wavelength, its position and momentum can never be precisely established. This is called the uncertainty principle. (What has been said above about the electron is true for protons or any other particle, but, experimentally, the effects become undetectable with increasing mass.)

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Date Created:

Feb 23, 2012

Last Modified:

Aug 10, 2015
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