Saturday, June 14, 2008

Quantum – What Does it Mean?

Quantum – What Does it Mean?

The investigations that led to the development of quantum mechanics began in the mid 1800s. It started as a simple inquiry as to why heated objects glowed in different colors. This became a field of research investigating “black body” radiation. It centered on the study of light and the final conclusions drawn were that the frequency of the emitted light was temperature dependant and that higher frequency waves carried higher energy. This study eventually branched off into the field of spectroscopy and the analysis of the color spectrum different elements emitted when heated.

From these early inquiries, Newton was able to develop the laws of thermodynamics in the late seventeenth century. By the mid-nineteenth century, physicists knew that heat was produced by the accelerated motion of molecules and at absolute zero temperature, the motion of the molecules became still. Also by this time Michael Faraday had experimentally established the theories of electrodynamics and these were mathematically grounded by James Clerk Maxwell.

The mystery most puzzling physicists of the time was how to tie the theories of thermodynamics (heat), electrodynamics (light) and the new mechanics (matter) together. Johann Jakob Balmer found at least a partial and most intriguing piece of this puzzle when he came up with a formula that worked over a limited range. Later, Max Planck developed a formula that worked over all ranges, but there was a hitch. It only worked if the radiation was discontinuous. In other words, the radiation had to come in tiny, discreet packets which he called quanta. And, there was another problem. At the time, electromagnetic radiation was thought to travel only in waves.

Soon afterward Einstein published a paper on the Photoelectric Effect describing light as traveling in discreet particles, just as Planck had indicated. Each light quanta, or discrete packet, carried a specific amount of energy, known as a quantum. Today we know this as a single photon particle. In essence, Planck showed that energy was emitted in packets and Einstein showed that energy was absorbed the same way. The work of Planck and Einstein established the particle idea of light. Thus began the modern debate over the wave/particle nature of light that continues to this day. Einstein later showed a preference to Schrödinger’s wave mechanics, but most physicists today still favor the particle nature simply because so much applied science can be derived from it.

This initial combination of discoveries also finally tied thermodynamics, electrodynamics and mechanics together. The theories of mechanics deal with ponderable matter, so the new theories of quantum mechanics dealt primarily with how light and matter interacted.

Later, physicist Niels Bohr applied the newest quantum theories and found that the energy in electrons combined with the frequency of their orbits equaled Planck’s constant. From this he surmised that electrons jump from one energy state to another in a discontinuous fashion. In other words, they go from one orbit to another without existing anywhere in between. This became known as a quantum leap.

Today, the word quantum is popularly associated with anything that accesses or pertains to an invisible realm of subatomic particles which acts as a single entity and cooperates with our intentions. Considering the vast difference in the original and popular definitions, it seems that the very word has made a quantum leap in meaning.

Perhaps the word “quantum” has been confused with the actions of special quantum level systems such as a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC). In this instance, a gas is cooled to near absolute zero and the atoms reach their lowest energy state, also known as their lowest quantum state of potential. At that point, the system exhibits quantum effects meaning that the atoms no longer act individually. They begin to act as a single unit.

The empty parts of outer space are at near-zero temperatures. This is commonly referred to as the Zero Point Field in cosmology. In general, the Zero Point Field (ZPF) is the baseline energy of a system when that system is near a temperature of absolute zero. Without this baseline energy, the system could not exist in manifested space. The ZPF must be accounted for when investigating these systems because at the quantum level, energy cannot be completely still.

Physicist David Bohm stated that the quantum realm is not a real place. It is a set of equations that map or describe a process just below the threshold of everyday matter. Some popular references to the quantum realm describe it as if it is a real place or thing even if it is invisible.

What does the word quantum mean for you? Do you think devices that have the word quantum in their name or description really analyze something different than other biofeedback type devices? Do you think quantum has become an overused buzzword just to sell things?

Some content excerpted from The Sage Age – Blending Science with Intuitive Wisdom
© 2008 MaAnna Stephenson
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