The Laws of Physics

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Laws of Physics
By Tony Jeong
            Boom! Boom! Boom!
            "Order in the court" declared the judge.
            The room became silent. The eyes of the jury fell to Mr. Photon and Max Planck.
            "Mr. Photon, you have been brought here on account of breaking the laws of physics. You are accused of causing the ultraviolet catastrophe. Do you plead guilty?" said the Judge.
            "I plead innocent," replied Mr. Photon.
            "Do you solemnly swear or affirm that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you Science?"
            "I do." responded Mr. Photon.
            "Please begin Mr. Maxwell," said the judge.
            "Mr. Photon, My electromagnetic theory clearly states that the radiation from the blackbody originates from the vibration of electric charges in the molecules of the material. Therefore, your temperature increased during the experiment meaning your frequency of radiated light should have increased as well!" exclaimed James Clerk Maxwell.
            Max Planck rose from the bar table.
            "Well Mr. Maxwell, I have concrete evidence here that my client Mr. Photon is innocent of these accusations," said Max Planck. "The vibrating molecules in the heated material vibrate only with specific quantities of energy instead of a continuous flow of it. These packets of energy are known as quanta. Metaphorically speaking, it is like pushing a box up a staircase as opposed to up a ramp. On the staircase, the box is moved in quantized steps of energy."
            "This is rubbish!" denied Maxwell. "According to your explanation, this means that the electromagnetic waves do not transmit energy in a continuous flow and that Newton's laws are also broken since you are restricting Mr. Photon to a certain value of energy."
            "Your honor, if you look at the graph provided, clearly Mr. Photon did not travel in the direction as stated by Mr. Maxwell. Instead of my client's path continuing at the predicted curve, he was found to decrease all as his wavelengths decreased in size," said Planck.
            "Mr. Planck, care to explain why this occurred?" questioned Maxwell.
            "My client was travelling on the ultraviolet spectrum when he took a turn. This so-called 'ultraviolet catastrophe' can be explained using the relation where the energy in joules of a single quantum is directly proportional to the frequency, in hertz, of the radiation, also known as E = hf where h is the constant in joules seconds."
            "I completely disagree with your theory!" shouted Maxwell.
            The court intensified as Maxwell, Planck and the jury all shouted in argument.
            "Order in the court! Order in the court!" shouted the judge.
            The courtroom had settled. Suddenly a man rose from the jury and stepped onto the floor of the court.
            "Who are you?" asked the judge.
            "My name is Albert Einstein. I believe I can weigh in on this case here."
            "I shall allow it. What do you have to say?" said the judge.
           "Mr. Planck's theories here validate the experiment known as the photoelectric effect. During this experiment, it was found that the frequency is what causes the light such as Mr. Photon here to eject from a metal. It was found that photoelectrons were emitted from the photoelectric surface when the light was above the threshold frequency."
            "This cannot be! Mr. Einstein, you and Planck are changing the basis of physics!" cried Maxwell.
            The jury roared in disagreement.
            "Order once again!" shouted the judge.
 
            "I don't believe that the evidence and theories provided are incorrect. They are just different. In fact, I believe Mr. Planck has ushered in a brand new era of physics. His quantum hypothesis has changed everything! From now on, Mr. Maxwell, you and your previous ideas will be known as classical physics and Mr. Planck, your theories and ideas will be the first steps into modern physics. Mr. Photon, you are found to be not guilty. Court is adjourned."

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Quantum Theories

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

T is for ... Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

S is for ... Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

Q is for ... Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

I is for ... Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

C is for ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

R is for ... Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

N is for ... Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

G is for ... Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

A is for ... Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

F is for ... Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

Q is for ... Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

B is for ... Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.