Quantum Circular Perspective

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Lisa met her father Dave with a hug as he arrived home from work. “What did you do at work today?” Lisa was abnormally curious and talkative.
“Well,” started Dave, searching for a quick way to explain nuclear physics to a 10 year old. Dave was a nuclear scientist.  “We split some atoms.”
“How d’you split them?” 
“We take parts of an atom and push them around a huge circle faster and faster, until we can’t push them any more. Then we put an atom in the way, and kablooey!  It gets blown to bits.”  
Lisa laughed. “Why do you blow up the atoms?”
“So we can see what they are made of and how they are put together.” 
“What are they made of?”
“Well, atoms are made of little parts, called electrons that fly around big parts in the center, which is called the nucleus.” 
 “Kind of like the Earth going around the Sun?”
Dave was really impressed.  “Yeah, like that. Only much much smaller.”
“And you blow them apart?” Lisa asked seriously.
 “Yeah. Kablooey!”
“What about the people?” asked Lisa, with concern.
“What people, Leese?”
“The people on the electron.”
Dave laughed, “Oh Leese, there are no people on the electron. It’s much too small. People are made out of atoms, and atoms are made out of electrons. There can’t be people on the electrons.” 
Lisa’s concern lifted considerably.
“Besides,” said Dave, “their life on an electron would be extremely weird.”
“How is it weird, Daddy?”
“Well, for one thing, light would only come in big clumps, called photons, and each clump would rattle the electron. Some of them might even blow the electron away from the nucleus.  It would be very hard to read a book when the light clumps blasted you around like that. And in between clumps it would be completely dark.”
“Wow! What else?”
“Well, small things like electrons, and I suppose people living on electrons, move like waves. They don’t move in straight lines but they go up and down or left and right.  Big things do this too, but their wiggles are so small that we don’t notice.”
“That is weird. What else?”
“If you lived on an electron, and your house had two doors, you could go through both doors at once, that is, as long as no one was watching. If anyone saw you, you could only go through one door or the other.”
“Do you split into two people? Or does one half of you go through each door and join back up when you get inside?”
“Scientists don’t know how you would do it, but they can prove that it happens.”
“Well, that is too weird for me.”
“Wait, there is more,” said Dave. “If you were small enough to live on an electron, no one could ever be sure exactly where you were and how fast you were going at the same time. The more accurately you measure one of these items, the less accurately you can measure the other.”
“I don’t get that. What do you mean?”
“Well, since it takes time to measure how fast you are going, you will move while someone is measuring it. So they can’t know exactly where you are when they are done. And if they measure exactly where you are, they can’t know how fast you are going. This is called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal.”
“I still don’t get it”.
“That’s okay. What is cool about the Uncertainty Principal is that, even if your house has no doors, since no one can measure exactly where you are, you could suddenly appear outside the walls. This is called tunneling.”
“Whoa. Now that is weird.” 
“It gets even weirder.  Since no one can tell exactly where anything is at an exact time, it is possible for things to appear out of nowhere, and then to disappear again before you can see them.”
“Stop!” pleaded Lisa. “That is too weird.” 
“There is still more, but I guess that is enough for now.”
“Good,” said Lisa. “Are you sure that there are no people living on electrons?” 
“Yes, I’m sure. You don’t need to worry about them.”
But, on a certain electron, orbiting a certain nucleus, a daughter greeted her father as he arrived home.  He had slipped in through both doors while no one was watching, and weaved his way into the kitchen. His daughter tried to hug him, but she zipped past him as they both wiggled around the room. “Hi Daddy, where ever you are,” she called. 
“Hi Sweetie,” he answered. Just then a photon slammed into the electron, shaking their house and bouncing them off the walls.  “Oh, I hate it when they do that,” he said.
During dinner the father accidentally tunneled through the wall and found himself outside, so he had to go back in, this time using only one door.
After dinner they went for a walk, weaving and wiggling and dodging random particles that appeared and disappeared.  Then a particle slammed into their nucleus, blasting it apart and releasing a shower of photons. Their electron was ejected and zoomed through space until it was captured by another atom that had an unfilled orbit.  “I really hate it when that happens.”
Dave’s attention was snared by the TV.  “We have just received word from NASA that a Jupiter sized planet is heading straight for the Sun at a high rate of speed. We’ll have more details when they become available.”
Dave and his daughter rushed outside and saw the planet flash past the Earth on its way towards the Sun.  Lisa wailed, “Daddy, maybe someone is trying to split our atom.”
As they watched, the planet zipped past the Sun, narrowly missing it and pulling a string of gas and glowing matter off the Sun as it slipped past. 
Agar looked up from his instruments and called out to his colleagues, “We need to refocus the planet beam since we are missing the nucleus.”

About the Author: 
William is an avionics engineer who likes to read and wonder what could be.

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Quantum Theories

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.

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!

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.