Wave-Particle Duality |
The Uncertianty Principle |
Compton Scattering |
Does the thought of quantum physics send a chill down your spine, just like the words calculus, differential equations, and -gasp- organic chemistry? You may not even think that quantum physics is a serious science, like the more familiar Newtonian physics. Just relax! I'm sure you're comfortable with regular physics, which describes the way that matter interacts with other matter, i.e. gravity, velocity, etc. If not, maybe you should check out my regular Interactive Physics site. Anyway, quantum physics is just the physics of the incredibly small. While Newtonian physics can suitably describe the orbit of the planets or the energy transformations during a game of pool, quantum physics describes how electrons surround the nucleus of the atom and other subatomic actions. At this point, you may be thinking that there's not that big of a difference between these two sciences. Hey, both explain how matter interacts with other matter, so what's the big deal? The difference is that the common laws of physics begin to deteriorate on small scales. For example, Nippendenso (Japan Electric) built a car that's only half a millimeters long. One could easily mistake it for a grain of rice if not for its gold color. At the scale of 1 to 1000, physics is already changing. Oil would now gum up the engine, and the tires wouldn't have enough traction to move the car.
Quantum physics tries to explain the behavior of even smaller particles. These particles are things like electrons, protons, and neutrons. Quantum physics even describes the particles which make these particles! That's right; the model of an atom that you were taught in high-school is wrong. The electrons don't orbit like planets; they form blurred clouds of probabilities around the nucleus. Protons and neutrons? They're each made of three quarks, each with its own 'flavor' and one of three 'colors'. Lets not forget the gluons, the even smaller particles that hold this mess together when they collect and form glueballs (not a very original name). Why weren't you told about this already? Were you fluent in calculus when you took general chemistry? The quantum model of the atom is much more complex than the traditional model, so most teachers save that stuff for college. (But this doesn't mean that you can't have a basic understanding and impress your friends!) The reason that quantum physics needs complex math to explain the behaviors and properties of small particles is that the world of these subatomic particles is a very bizarre one, filled with quantum probabilities and organized chaos. For example, the exact position and velocity of an electron is very hard to find because attempts to "see" it involve bouncing other particles off of it. By doing this, you've just changed the electron's velocity, so your data is useless. What quantum physics does is give us the statistical probability of the electron's location at any one moment. By learning how these particles act, scientists can better understand the matter which makes up the universe, and the way it behaves (or misbehaves). Quantum physics even plays a part in blackholes, where regular physics is thrown out the window and then some!