It results in what may appear to be some very strange conclusions about the physical world. In classical mechanics, objects exist in a specific place at a specific time. However, in quantum mechanics, objects instead exist in a haze of probability; they have a certain chance of being at point A, another chance of being at point B and so on. Quantum mechanics QM developed over many decades, beginning as a set of controversial mathematical explanations of experiments that the math of classical mechanics could not explain.
Unlike relativity, however, the origins of QM cannot be attributed to any one scientist. Rather, multiple scientists contributed to a foundation of three revolutionary principles that gradually gained acceptance and experimental verification between and They are:. Quantized properties : Certain properties, such as position, speed and color, can sometimes only occur in specific, set amounts, much like a dial that "clicks" from number to number.
This challenged a fundamental assumption of classical mechanics, which said that such properties should exist on a smooth, continuous spectrum. To describe the idea that some properties "clicked" like a dial with specific settings, scientists coined the word "quantized. Particles of light : Light can sometimes behave as a particle.
This was initially met with harsh criticism, as it ran contrary to years of experiments showing that light behaved as a wave; much like ripples on the surface of a calm lake. Light behaves similarly in that it bounces off walls and bends around corners, and that the crests and troughs of the wave can add up or cancel out.
Added wave crests result in brighter light, while waves that cancel out produce darkness. The color emitted corresponds to the distance between the crests, which is determined by the speed of the ball's rhythm.
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Waves of matter : Matter can also behave as a wave. This ran counter to the roughly 30 years of experiments showing that matter such as electrons exists as particles. In , German physicist Max Planck sought to explain the distribution of colors emitted over the spectrum in the glow of red-hot and white-hot objects, such as light-bulb filaments. Somehow, colors were quantized! This was unexpected because light was understood to act as a wave, meaning that values of color should be a continuous spectrum.
This seemed so strange that Planck regarded quantization as nothing more than a mathematical trick. According to Helge Kragh in his article in Physics World magazine, " Max Planck, the Reluctant Revolutionary ," "If a revolution occurred in physics in December , nobody seemed to notice it.
Planck was no exception …". Planck's equation also contained a number that would later become very important to future development of QM; today, it's known as "Planck's Constant.
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Quantization helped to explain other mysteries of physics. In , Einstein used Planck's hypothesis of quantization to explain why the temperature of a solid changed by different amounts if you put the same amount of heat into the material but changed the starting temperature.
In , Johannes Rydberg derived an equation that described the spectral lines emitted by hydrogen, though nobody could explain why the equation worked. They could "jump" between special orbits, and the energy produced by the jump caused specific colors of light, observed as spectral lines.
Though quantized properties were invented as but a mere mathematical trick, they explained so much that they became the founding principle of QM. In , Einstein published a paper, " Concerning an Heuristic Point of View Toward the Emission and Transformation of Light ," in which he envisioned light traveling not as a wave, but as some manner of "energy quanta. This would also apply, as would be shown a few years later, when an electron "jumps" between quantized orbits.
Though originally a thought experiment, this has now been confirmed experimentally through tests of something known as Bell's Theorem. Quantum optics is a branch of quantum physics that focuses primarily on the behavior of light, or photons. At the level of quantum optics, the behavior of individual photons has a bearing on the outcoming light, as opposed to classical optics, which was developed by Sir Isaac Newton.
Lasers are one application that has come out of the study of quantum optics. Quantum electrodynamics QED is the study of how electrons and photons interact. The predictions of QED regarding the scattering of photons and electrons are accurate to eleven decimal places. Unified field theory is a collection of research paths that are trying to reconcile quantum physics with Einstein's theory of general relativity , often by trying to consolidate the fundamental forces of physics.
Some types of unified theories include with some overlap :.
Introduction to quantum mechanics
Quantum physics is sometimes called quantum mechanics or quantum field theory. It also has various subfields, as discussed above, which are sometimes used interchangeably with quantum physics, though quantum physics is actually the broader term for all of these disciplines. The Compton Effect. Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Share Flipboard Email.
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Andrew Zimmerman Jones holds advanced degrees in physics and math, about which he has been researching, teaching, and writing for 23 years. Updated August 16, Earliest Findings. Black Body Radiation Photoelectric Effect.