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10 Essentials of Quantum Mechanics

7 Apr 2016, 12:28 UTC
10 Essentials of Quantum Mechanics
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Vortices in a Bose-Einstein condensate.Source: NIST.Trying to score at next week’s dinner party? Here’s how to intimidate your boss by fluently speaking quantum.1. Everything is quantumIt’s not like some things are quantum mechanical and other things are not. Everything obeys the same laws of quantum mechanics – it’s just that quantum effects of large objects are very hard to notice. This is why quantum mechanics was a latecomer in theoretical physics: It wasn’t until physicists had to explain why electrons sit on shells around the atomic nucleus that quantum mechanics became necessary to make accurate predictions.2. Quantization doesn’t necessarily imply discreteness“Quanta” are discrete chunks, but not everything becomes chunky on short scales. Electromagnetic waves are made of quanta called “photons,” so the waves can be thought of as a discretized. And electron shells around the atomic nucleus can only have certain discrete radii. But other particle properties do not become discrete even in a quantum theory. The position of electrons in the conducting band of a metal for example is not discrete – the electron can occupy any place within the band. And the energy values of the photons that make up electromagnetic waves are not discrete either. For this ...

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