Quantum Mechanics Simplified

Quantum MechanicsQuantum mechanics may seem like one of those subjects that needs to be simplified, like Microsoft Windows or calculus, but the theories encompassed by the term seek to demystify many unexplained phenomena of the universe. Scientists are even looking in the direction of quantum mechanics proving the existence of an “afterlife”.

Quantum mechanics is all about paradoxes, like how light can exist as both a wave and a particle. It deals with mathematical measurements at the quantum level, that is, the level of subatomic particles. Electrons and neutrons, the parts of an atom and the level where energy becomes matter. At the heart of quantum mechanics lie the Planck constant expressed in the equation: E = hv, where E is a particle of light called a photon, v is its frequency, and h is a constant factor by which a photon’s frequency is measured and determined. This explains the differences in the frequencies of light, radio waves, and high frequency photons such as gamma and x-rays. Further more, quantum mechanics claims that certain phenomena can only demonstrate minute—quantum level—changes.

Quantum entanglement, the connection of particles and their behavior irregardless of distance, is one of many theories encompassed by quantum mechanics. On the other side of the fence is the Theory of Relativity, which explains the universe on a macro level. Things like suns going supernova, time and its effect, gravity, and the movements of heavenly bodies. Scientists have been trying to come up with a unified theory, or Theory of Everything to encompass all of these things and to provide a framework for any experiment to produce consistent results all of the time. One of the impediments to this reconciliation can be illustrated by the inability of quantum mechanics to explain gravitation and the electromagnetic field with the same set of theories such as renormalization, which is a set of techniques used to explain infinities in calculated quantities. This unified theory would also need to take into account the strong and weak forces which permeates everything from the molecules that hold living bodies together to the celestial dance of the universe.

Physicist Yakir Aharonov at Tel Aviv University and his coauthors at Chapman University in the US recently published a paper in the New Journal of Physics putting forth the theory of quantum Cheshire Cats, or the possibility of the existence of polarization without photons. An aspect of quantum mechanics simplified, this theory would illustrate the ability to make precision quantum measurements by removing unwanted properties. The basic experiment has photons passing with 100% certainty through the left arm of an interferometer, a device used to measure small displacements and changes in refractive index, among other things. The polarization of the photons can be detected in the right arm where the photons themselves have a zero chance of passing through. In actuality, the photons are separated from their polarization. Polarization (waves), as in light, is the oscillations perpendicular to a transverse wave’s direction of travel. For example, sunlight passing through a person’s shades has had most of its light polarized. The problem with this first experiment is that it does not measure the photons and their polarization simultaneously, but only some of the photons and their polarization at different times.

The physicists introduced two variations to the original experiment. One shows that simultaneous measurement of the photons and their polarization causes the photons to change direction. The act of measuring affects the outcome and the paradox vanishes. The second one goes a step further by taking a weak measurement, one that is less precise, accepting the tradeoff between disturbance and precision.

Paradoxes abound in quantum mechanics even as the theory seeks to explain and encompass such things as teleportation, wormholes, quantum singularities and a host of other phenomena that occur at the quantum level, simplifying how the universe interacts with itself. As of yet there is no truly workable Theory of Everything that deals with every interaction on the quantum level and above. But then again at one time in history no one could prove that the earth revolved around the sun.

Lee Birdine


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6 Responses to "Quantum Mechanics Simplified"

  1. Kimmo Rouvari   December 7, 2013 at 5:42 am

    @Lee Birdine Heads up! Theory of Everything is nearer than you think 😉 http://toebi.com/Theory.php There is actually nice example coming up. Juno’s Earth flyby results might be revealed on Dec 10. My prediction is 1.111 mm/s at perigee.

  2. John Doe   December 6, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    How much attention should we pay to someone who uses (in print, no less!) the non-word ‘irregardless’?

  3. MuckrakerW   December 6, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    Normalization problems to solve the normalization constant are fun. One of the major steps that one must take to solve it is the rule foil when you are working with quadratics. That is, (x + iy)(x – iy) = x ² -ixy+xiy-i²y² = x² + y². This is also ∫ Ψ*Ψ dx = 1. The complex number, aka the probability amplitude and its complex conjugate, turns out to be a real number. The imaginary number, i = √-1 squared also equal one. So we end up with a real number. The integral teaches us that the wave function multiplied by its complex conjugate must equal one, via the entire Hilbert space in order to be normalized, (here I leave out continuity of the wave function, and that if so, the changes of locating the particle at some position per unit time is probable. But keep in mind we are bound by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, Δx∙Δp ≥ ℏ/2. If interested read chapter II of J. Townsend’s book, ‘A Fundamental Approach to Modern Physics: Quantum Mechanics’.


  4. Lee Birdine   December 5, 2013 at 7:19 am

    @jhk. “Irregardless” is indeed a word–just a non-standard one and people tend to default to the more well known “regardless”.

    @Adam. The statement is actually “light can exist as both a wave and a particle.” I do not claim they exist in both states simultaneously.

  5. Adam_Smith   December 5, 2013 at 1:25 am

    I have long felt that it is a misstatement to claim that light, or any other energy, exists as waves and particles simultaneously. The two slit experiment that allegedly demonstrates this does no such thing. What it actually shows is that while in transit from a source to a screen, light is definitely a wave. As it reveals itself through a pattern of dots on the screen, however, it is definitely a particle. It is at no time both simultaneously. The wave interference pattern on the screen emerges only as a statistical effect of the placement of many dots and allows us to deduce, not directly observe, the wave nature that light must have had while negotiating the two slits. The special mystery of quantum mechanics is how the transition from wave to particle occurs.

  6. jhk   December 4, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    “Irregardless” is not a word.


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