Quantum Explained: Basic Concepts

Quantum… Even the name itself is enough to confuse us! So, would you like to learn some of the mysteries of this magical world today? Get ready for mindblowing facts! Because quantum mechanics will not only teach you new things but also make you question what you already know. So, if you’re ready, let’s get started!

First, let’s learn what quantum is. When you think about it, this word really does resemble “quantity.” In fact, the word “quantum” comes from Latin, meaning “an amount.” In English, it refers to the smallest indivisible unit of a physical entity that interacts. Quantum physics emerged in the early 1900s when entirely new approaches were used to solve problems that classical physics of the 1800s couldn’t explain. I guess that’s enough about the history of quantum. Now, let’s dive into the world of this discipline which has become an inseparable part of physics.

Max Planck: One of the greatest physicist with endless contributions to quantum physics

Wave or particle?

Let’s take a look at the concept of wave-particle duality first. This concept suggests that material objects with mass also behave as waves, capable of transferring energy. So, yes, everything you see around you right now is, in a way, both a particle and a wave. Confusing, isn’t it? Let’s delve a bit deeper then. We know that the substances we see are composed of atoms. However, when we look at the subatomic particles within these atoms, we realize that they don’t really behave as “pure particles” or “pure waves.”

Double-slit experiment

You may have heard of the double-slit experiment. In this experiment, electrons are passed through a plate with two slits, and the resulting pattern on a surface behind the plate is observed. The results are mind-boggling. Electrons, which we used to think of as particles, create an interference pattern, just like light does. But here’s the truly astonishing part: when we try to “observe” which path the electrons take, they suddenly behave like particles. The pattern on the surface is no longer an interference pattern but rather two columns. Scientists have interpreted this mind-blowing phenomenon with a concept called the Copenhagen Interpretation. According to this interpretation, microscopic systems (like the experiment we just discussed) do not behave the same way as macroscopic systems (imagine the same experiment with marbles). When electrons advance without an observer, they pass through both slits simultaneously (yes, it’s very hard to imagine) and interfere with themselves. However, to observe something, you need to send photons onto it. These photons interact with the electrons, and as a result, electrons can no longer behave like waves.

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