Did you know there are more atoms in a drop of water than stars in the galaxy? These tiny spheres give the oceans their waves and the stars their fire. But what about things that are smaller than atoms? Protons, neutrons, photons, electrons—these particles behave in strange ways, revealing bewildering truths about the universe. Below are three amazing facts about quantum mechanics. Feel free to leave mysteries that peak your interests in the comments section below.
You, the sea, and the stars are waves
Light travels in photons, little particles bouncing around the universe. These packets reflect off mirrors and collide with other particles. But wait, doesn’t light travel in waves? Basic science tells us that different wavelengths appear as different colors. So what is it, particles flying across space or waves radiating through the cosmos? Well, both. It seems that on the smallest of scales, particles exhibit wave-like properties—they are, in effect, the same thing. Scientists call this the particle-wave duality. Though only the tiniest objects display this behavior, it carries far-reaching consequences. You, your house, and the ground you stand on are made of waves.
Seeing is deceiving: the observer effect
At the start of the 20th century, scientists were having trouble explaining a strange phenomenon of light (and as technology came up to speed, electrons). When they shined light through two small slits, a wave-interference pattern—a series of bands—appeared on the wall. This held true to the wave-like nature of light. But when the scientists peered through one of the slits, they observed something quite different. Instead of the pattern they saw two dots on the wall, as though the light had traveled through the slits like particles. This made no sense.
How could the light alter its pattern? Why did looking through the slit change what they saw? The conclusion was inescapable: the act of observing the light forced it to behave like a particle. Called the observer effect, this wonder remains one of the greatest mysteries of science. Even so, the conclusion stands strong—observing the quantum world changes it.
The road to the multiverse
One of the stranger parts of the dual-slit experiment is the collapsing of the wave function. When the light acts as a wave, it shines in bands across the entire wall, but when we look through the slit it appears as a single point. What determines where the dot lands? The light can clearly reach multiple sections of the wall, but the observer effect forces it to choose just one. Or does it?
According to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, the light still shines across the wall—just not where we can see it. The theory proposes that observing a quantum event splits the universe into a series of alternate realities in which every possibility is realized. This means that looking through the slit would create a parallel universe for every spot the light could land on—the light would still be shining across the wall, just in different planes of reality. Though the many-worlds interpretation is clearly untestable, it proposes an interesting explanation of one of modern science’s greatest mysteries.
So what do you think of the world of quantum mechanics? Does it challenge the way you understand the universe? Let me know in the comments section below! As always, please like, share, or reblog this post if you enjoy it. Be sure to check me out on Twitter and Facebook as well. Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to subscribe for new content every Wednesday!
Comment question of the week
Which one of these facts or theories is the most mind-blowing? As one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics famously said, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.”