Friday, August 15, 2014

Uncertain Principles - The Triumph of Quantum Physics

Today on Far Future Horizons we present for your viewing pleasure the BBC documentary “Uncertain Principles” which explorers the historical development of Quantum Mechanics as a new field in physics. Quantum physics led to a major paradigm shift regarding the nature of reality and the Cosmos in which we live.

This documentary explores the emergence of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in the early 20th century, and how its implications shook up the scientific establishment of the day.

Quantum mechanics, through the pioneering work of Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Louis de Broglie and several others, revealed that on the subatomic scale - energy, matter and even light has a dual, almost Jekyll and Hyde personality, showing both particle and wave like characteristics.

Simply put, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle states that it is impossible to know both the exact position and the exact velocity of an object at the same time. However, the effect is tiny and so is only noticeable on a subatomic scale.

Albert Einstein Explained the Photoelectric Effect by applying Max Planck's Quanta Model of Black Body Radiation to Light 

Light can be considered as being made up of packets of energy called photons. To measure the position and velocity of any particle, you would first shine a light on it, and then detect the reflection. On a macroscopic scale, the effect of photons on an object is insignificant. Unfortunately, on subatomic scales, the photons that hit the subatomic particle will cause it to move significantly, so although the position has been measured accurately, the velocity of the particle will have been altered. By learning the position, you have rendered any information you previously had on the velocity useless. In other words, the observer affects the observed.Its detractors, foremost among them Albert Einstein, wanted to believe that an underlying determinism and realism underlies the workings of the universe. How ironic that it was Einstein’s own work on the photoelectric effect using Max Planck’s earlier work on black body radiation would lay one of the major foundation stones for this emerging new field.

Despite experiments attempting to disprove Heisenberg’s work, the Uncertainty Principle prevailed and remains one of the fundamental concepts of quantum theory.

Author’s Notes: For a detailed overview of the Historical Development of Quantum Mechanics allow me to suggest the entry on Wikipedia and John Gribbin’s delightful book “In search of Schrödinger’s Cat” and a very informative book review concerning this book.

Uncertain Principles

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