Quantum physics is the study of energy and matter, their interrelations and
transformations on very small scales. The world of quantum physics is very different from
Newtonian physics, the one that we experience at our size as humans. Newtonian physics
describes the energy and motion of massive bodies such as planets, stars, and billiard
balls, where quantum physics describes the motion and states of atoms, electrons,
subatomic particles and other forms of energy.
The scientists who pioneered quantum physics during the early 20th century were not able
to describe the interactions of these very small particles and waves using Newtonian
physics because the physical laws that seem so natural to us break down at very small
scales. Today’s quantum physics was pieced together from many different findings that
took place over many decades. In fact quantum physics is still thought by many to be in its
nascent stages and new developments are being made all the time.
The objects and concepts that quantum physics tries to explain may seem very abstract
and very obscure but the science has a great deal of practical application. It also answers
some of the most fundamental questions about science. These are questions that
philosophers have been debating for ages, involving the smallest forms of matter and the
nature of motion, light and energy.
Quantum physics describes the behavior of very small particles like those that compose
an atom: electrons, protons and neutrons. In high school physics students learn that
individual electrons orbit around the atomic nucleus, but this common model of the atom is
very different from the quantum model, it is less precise. In the quantum model the
electrons form clouds of probabilities around the nucleus. As we will learn things on the
quantum scale things are inherently uncertain.
By knowing the mass, the energy and the velocity of planets we can determine how they
moved in the past and how they will behave in the future. The only things that we cannot
measure in the motion of large massive bodies are the random changes in their
properties that are due to quantum fluctuations and uncertainties. In fact the true to life
randomness in atomic and molecular movement makes it impossible to precisely predict
the outcome of any experiment be it on the quantum, or the celestial scale.
To most, quantum physics is entirely counterintuitive, and it even proves so for most
practicing physicists. Its puzzling implications and many paradoxes have, over the years,
allowed it to gain a moderate degree of public attention. It has received mixed reception
from the public and the scientific community as well because it dictates that everything on
quantum physical scales, and thus (by implication) everything on macroscopic physical
scales, is determined by pure chance (this can be quite a troubling concept to many).
One gentleman by the name of Albert Einstein, who had previously made vast
contributions to the development of quantum science, turned against it, proclaiming that
“God does not play dice with the universe.” Despite the initial, heated controversy over
the practicability of quantum science, quantum mechanics has unfalteringly passed
empirical test after empirical test and is regarded as one of the most valuable and
possibly the most fundamental component of physical theory today.
Quantum physics has given us insight into many areas of science and has tremendous
applicability over a broad range of disciplines. It also showed scientists that not
everything could be explained in terms of classical physics as was once thought.
Knowledge of quantum physics, its corollaries, axioms and equations has enabled
astronomers and cosmologists to tell us more about the universe that we live in than we
otherwise could have ever known. It revolutionized electronic engineering and the way
that we manufacture transistors and semiconductors. It has enabled us to create more
efficient medicines and it allowed scientists to pioneer molecular and computational
biology. It may affect the way our brain creates our thoughts in very significant ways and
maybe most importantly it has transformed our philosophical understanding of
determinism, of free will and of ourselves.
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