Lesson 13: Quantum Physics I


Quantum Physics I

We are finally here.  If you thought Special Relativity was strange, you haven’t seen anything yet.  It has been said no one understands Quantum Physics.  That is because it is so unintuitive.  So much so many say that it is hard to even visualize what Quantum Physics is trying to tell you.  But I have pictures in my mind, and I am going to share those pictures with you.  I know they helped me when I was coming to grips with Quantum reality, and I know they will help you too.

Before we dive headfirst into Quantum Physics, we need to answer a question. 

What is matter made of?

To answer that question, it is helpful to review a little history.  Don’t worry. It will be brief.  

Here we go.

Around 400 B.C.E., the Greek philosopher Democritus introduced the idea of the atom as the basic building block matter. Democritus thought that atoms are tiny, uncuttable, solid particles that are surrounded by empty space and constantly moving at random.

John Dalton’s atomic theory in the 1800s also proposed that all matter was composed of atoms, indivisible and indestructible building blocks. He believed all atoms of an element were identical. Different elements had atoms of differing size and mass.

In the late 1800s, Henri Becquerel discovered radiation. It was his work that was carried on by Marie Curie.  Through radioactivity, they discovered atoms were divisible, and some atoms shoot out other particles.

Also, in the late 1800s, JJ Thompson was experimenting with cathode ray tubes which are high-vacuum tubes in which cathode rays, which we now know is a beam of electrons, produce a luminous image on a fluorescent screen.  He discovered the electron, which he said were parts of atoms.  Again the atom is shown to be divisible.

Thompson created the first model of the atom (above), which was called the plum pudding model.  The model had electrons imbedded in a plum pudding gelatinous structure which has a positive charge and cancels the negative charge of the electrons making the atom neutral.

Ernest Rutherford, in the late 1800s, shot high-energy alpha particles at gold foil.  Most went straight through the foil, but a few bounced back.  He discovered the particles that were bouncing back were hitting the nucleus of the atom, which contained most of the mass of the atom.  

Rutherford developed the solar system model of the atom (above).  He said the electrons are in orbit around the nucleus. He also showed electrons were very far away from the nucleus.  If the nucleus was a basketball, the electrons would be 2 miles way.  This shows although we don’t perceive it, our universe is mostly empty space.  We will discuss this a lot more in later lessons.

There was a problem with the model.  Using electromagnetic calculations (notice how everything always comes down to electromagnetism), electrons should run out of energy and crash into the nucleus of the atom.  Atoms should not exist.  We should not exist.  Nothing should exist.

So, we answered the question we fist asked.  Matter is made of atoms.  Every solid, liquid, gas, and plasma is made of atoms.  We also discovered that atoms are divisible.  We actually learned a lot but were eventually led to the crazy conclusion that nothing should exist.  

This was one of many problems that developed, and it was Quantum Physics that came to the rescue.  Unlike Special Relativity which was developed by the genius of one man, Albert Einstein, over a short period of time, Quantum Physics was developed by many over decades, beginning in the early 1900s.

It took time and the contribution of many great scientists, but it started with a man named Max Plank, who forever changed how the world viewed energy.  He became known as the grandfather of Quantum Physics.

There was a huge problem for scientists in the early 1900s known as the Ultraviolet Catastrophe.  According to the calculations of electromagnetism (It just doesn’t go away, does it? Important, isn’t it?), if you turn on your oven, the temperature should get so hot that your oven and you with it would be burned to a crisp.  Obviously, that is not what happens.  There is a limit on the energy.  But there shouldn’t be. The energy should be limitless.

To see why let’s go back to the wave/rope analogy we used in the last lesson.

If you and a friend each take the side of a piece of rope, and you start shaking your end up and down, it will look like the picture above.  Shake the rope slowly, and it will look like the red wave.  Shake it harder, and it will look like the blue wave.  

When you shake it harder, there are more humps in the rope.  Frequency is the word that describes how many humps there are in the rope.  The more humps, the HIGHER the frequency.  The higher the frequency, the higher the energy.

You can always imagine making the frequency higher.  Let’s say you shake the rope using all your strength. You can find someone who is stronger to come a long and shake it harder and increase the frequency even more.  Let’s say we get the strongest man in the world to shake it. After he uses his strength, we can hook it up to a machine to shake it harder and then another machine to shake it harder. Finally, get Superman to do it. Potentially there is no limit to how hard it can be shaken, so there is no limit to its frequency.

There is the problem.  According to physics (electromagnetism), before the 1900s, these unlimited waves at super high frequencies should be in your oven, and when you open the oven door, you should get burnt to a crisp.  Obviously, that is not what happens.  Have you ever cooked using an oven?  You didn’t get burnt to a crisp, did you? 

So what was going on?

Here is where it starts getting strange.  Max Plank proposed that energy was not continuous but came in chunks.  What he said was the higher the frequency (the faster you move the rope), the bigger the chunk of energy.  

But bigger is a relative term. Because even the biggest of these chunks are way too small for us to see even with the most powerful microscope, that is why the rope looks like it is moving smoothly.

Plank even came up with a very easy equation to determine how much energy was in each chunk. Remember, the higher the frequency of a wave, the more energy, so the bigger the chunk of energy.

The equation is E= hf. E stands for energy.  H is Plank’s constant, and f is the frequency of the wave. Planks constant is an incredibly small number 6.634 x 10-34 J.  J stands for joule and represents energy.

So all you do is multiply the wave frequency by the number 6.634 x 10-34, and you get the amount of energy.  The more energy, the bigger the chunk.

Another very important fact is that these chunks are indivisible.  You can have 1, 2, 3…. chunks.  You can not have half a chunk or a third of a chunk.

Now get ready. Here it comes.  It is what you have been waiting for.  When energy comes in indivisible chunks, it is said to be quantized, and there you have it…


So now you know what the word Quantum means.  It is a discrete, undividable quantity of energy proportional in magnitude to the frequency of its electromagnetic wave.

Now I’m going to explain how this chunky energy of quantum physics keeps you from being incinerated by your oven in very simple terms.  I am going to use something you probably had as a baby.  You grasped the concept then, so I’m sure you can grasp it now.

Remember the toy where you had kind of like a box with holes in it and all those shaped blocks, and only certain blocks would fit in certain holes, and you had to try and put the right blocks in the right holes?  Well, we are going to make that even easier.

Look at the image above.  Picture your kid block toy as having just one hole on top that you can fit cubes into. The hole is only so big, so if the cubes are too big, they wouldn’t fit into the hole.

Let’s pretend the size of the cubes is related to the size of a chunk of energy.  Remember, the higher the frequency, the bigger the chunk of energy.  So eventually, you are going to get a chunk of energy that isn’t going to fit in the hole. 

Now let’s turn the toy into an oven.  I know that’s not a very smart thing to do with a kid’s toy, but it’s the best way I could think of to make the analogy.

Let’s set the oven to 80 degrees. 

Each block/chunk of energy has to contribute the necessary multiple of its frequency to provide enough energy to heat the oven to 80 degrees.  Frequency 1 has to contribute 80 blocks/chunks of energy (1 x 80 = 80).  Frequency 10 has to contribute 8 blocks/chunks of energy (10 x 8 = 80).  Frequency 50 is unique.  It can fit into the box/oven, so it has to contribute and reach the 80, but since you can’t break up a chunk into smaller pieces, it over contributes but gets no change.  Frequency 50 has to contribute 2 blocks/chunks of energy (2 x 50 = 100).  Frequency 100 is larger than 80, so it is too big to fit into the box and does not contribute at all.

That big high-frequency chunk of dangerous energy that will incinerate you can’t get in.  It is just too chunky.  So when you open your oven, that high frequency isn’t there.  It is just too big.

Another way of looking at it is that more energy than is available is needed to produce the big 100 chunk of energy.  

So there you have it.  The ultraviolet catastrophe was averted.  The world won’t burn.

Now really think about what this chunky energy means for you.

energy means for you.

Look at the lightning above.  It may look like a continuous stream of energy but have no doubt it is chunky.  It is just the chunks are so small that you can’t tell.

Now, this may freak you out a little.  When you move, you use energy; therefore, you are moving in chunks.  It is like you are constantly popping in and out of existence.  It is for a crazy short time, so you don’t notice it.  But you are.  We will talk a lot more about this in later lessons.

So now we have the first step that led to Quantum Physics as we see it today.  And to help move it along to its next step was the genius of geniuses, Albert Einstein.  His discovery led to him being given a Nobel Prize.

Have fun teaching this lesson.  We know you can do it.