Quantum Mechanics

Quantum Mechanics is the science of subatomic particles and their behavior patterns that are observed in nature. As the foundation of scientific knowledge approached the start of the twentieth century, problems began to arise over the fact that classic physical ideas were not capable of explaining the observed behavior of subatomic particles. In 1913, the Danish physicist Neils Bohr, proposed a successful quantum model of the atom that began the process of a more defined understanding of its subatomic particles. It was accepted in the early part of the twentieth century that light traveled as both waves and particles.

The reason light appears to act as a wave and particle is because we are noticing the accumulation of many light particles distributed over the probabilities of where each particle could be. In 1923, Louis De Broglie hypothesized that subatomic particles exhibit wavelike and particle properties for the same reason. The success of these theories inspired physicists to developed a way to describe the behavior of subatomic phenomena in terms of both waves and particles by means of mathematics. Newtons laws, the basis of classic physical ideas, help obtain precise information about the location of an object at any future time.

Classical physics assumes all collisions and locations of particles can be measured at once. The dual wave-particle nature of electrons flew in the face of such beliefs. In a changing environment, as is the nature of the electron, classical physical attributes of position and momentum are fleeting phenomena. No atomic particle can have both of these properties at the same time. An electron cannot be observed without changing its state. The simultaneous measurement of two conjugate variables such as the momentum and position or the energy and time for a moving particle entails a limitation on the precision of each measurement.

This observance is what Werner Heisenberg refereed to as the principle of uncertainty, which commonly became known as Heisenbergs Uncertainty Principle. We have the illusion that position and momentum can co-exist in large objects whose inherent action is huge compared to subatomic particles. Heisenberg realized that the uncertainty relations had profound implications. Heisenberg set himself to the task of finding the new quantum mechanics to explain what his theories observed. He relied on what can be observed, namely the light emitted and absorbed by the atoms. By July 1925, Heisenberg wrote his answer in a paper.

The basic idea of Heisenberg’s paper was to get rid of the orbits in atoms and to arrive at new mechanical equations. Heisenbergs approached focused mainly on the particle nature of electrons. The mathematics Heisenberg used were tables commonly used for multiplication of arrays of numbers-mathematical objects known as matrices. Using the mathematics of matrices, scientists had at last a new mechanics for calculating the quantum behavior of particles. Heisenberg, and others showed that the new quantum mechanics could account for many of the properties of atoms and atomic events.

Most physicists were slow to accept matrix mechanics because of its abstract nature. Erwin Schrodinger came up with a mathematical equation which nicely described the wave nature of electrons. Scientists gladly welcomed Schrodinger’s alternative wave mechanics when it appeared in early 1926 since it entailed more familiar concepts and equations. This led to much easier calculations and more familiar visualizations of atomic events than did Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics. Schrodingers equation provides us with information about the probability of finding the particle in a location at some future time.

We can state that the probability of finding the object at each point is high or low, but we can never say with certainty where the object will be at a future time. Bohr drew a relation between uncertainty, and the statistical interpretation of Schrodinger’s wave function, and published a proof that matrix and wave mechanics gave equivalent results-mathematically they were the same theory. Together, the two theories formed a logical interpretation of the physical meaning of quantum mechanics that became known as the “Copenhagen Interpretation. ”

Scientists, nurtured by the Copenhagen doctrine and the new quantum mechanics, formed a new and dominant generation of physicists. With the help of modern quantum physics we can speak of more attributes, such as mass, charge, wave functions, and the uncertainty principle in describing electron behavior. But, as Bohrs Copenhagen interpretation goes on to suggest, our quantum theories are simply man made generalizations formulated to account for our observations. Quantum mechanics fails to provide deterministic, single-valued solutions to any problem. The true, accurate prediction of subatomic particle behavior is still left for discovery.


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