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Quantum Mechanics

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A Strange New World

A Strange New World

Credit: Chris Birchill
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chris_j_b/2097714074/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

The first computers were powered by vacuum tubes, took up the space of a house, and weighed about 60,000 pounds. The tubes acted to control flow of electricity through the circuits. The field of quantum mechanics then was exploited using properties of the electron that operated at the subatomic level. Now you can have a laptop computer that weighs less than three pounds, occupies a square foot of space, and performs at speeds millions of times faster than the first computers.

Amazing But True

  • In many ways, literature mirrors science. The scientist faces many ideas that seem impossible and extremely hard to believe. In the story Alice in Wonderland, the characters are equally challenged to deal with the unknown:
    • When Alice states, “This is impossible.” The Mad Hatter responds, “Only if you believe it is.”
    • At another point, Alice says, “Sometimes I believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” To which the Mad Hatter replies, “That is an excellent practice.”
  • Sometimes science progress seems slow and plodding, adding a small fact here and there. Other times, somebody really rocks the boat, throwing out a new concept or theory that stretches and challenges everyone. The quantum theory of electrons was one of those game-changers. It required a whole new way of looking at the sub-atomic world, with electrons being considered not just particles and not just waves, but somehow behaving as both.
  • Credit: Benjamin Couprie
    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Solvay_conference_1927.jpg
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    The entire field of quantum physics emerged around mid-1920s. It was a major topic of discussion at the 1927 Solvay conference, which featured 17 nobel prize winners including Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. The conference lead to the wider acceptance of the quantum theory [Figure2]

     

  • Interestingly, the scientists most closely associated with quantum theory also recognize its cognitive challenge. The famous physicist Niels Bohr stated the challenges well: “If quantum mechanics hasn't profoundly shocked you, you haven't understood it yet.” Murray Gell-Mann (another well-known physicist) put it this way: “If someone says that he can think or talk about quantum physics without becoming dizzy, that shows only that he has not understood anything whatever about it.”
  • Watch a video about transistors at the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKatDurrDHM

What Do You Think?

Use the links below to learn more about quantum mechanics. Then answer the following questions.

  1. What determines whether photons and electrons are particles or waves?
  2. Why were transistors first developed?
  3. What is one theory about how birds navigate long distances?
  4. What did de Broglie first study in college?
  5. When did de Broglie win the Nobel Prize in Physics?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Chris Birchill; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chris_j_b/2097714074/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Benjamin Couprie; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Solvay_conference_1927.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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