Quantum mechanics

Quantum mechanics

Quantum mechanics (QM; also known as quantum physics or quantum theory), including quantum field theory, is a fundamental branch of physics concerned with processes involving, for example, atoms and photons. Systems such as these which obey quantum mechanics can be in a quantum superposition of different states, unlike in classical physics.

Quantum mechanics gradually arose from Max Planck’s solution in 1900 to the black-body radiation problem (reported 1859) and Albert Einstein’s 1905 paper which offered a quantum-based theory to explain the photoelectric effect (reported 1887). Early quantum theory was profoundly reconceived in the mid-1920s.

The reconceived theory is formulated in various specially developed mathematical formalisms. In one of them, a mathematical function, the wave function, provides information about the probability amplitude of position, momentum, and other physical properties of a particle.

Important applications of quantum theory include superconducting magnets, light-emitting diodes, and the laser, the transistor and semiconductors such as the microprocessor, medical and research imaging such as magnetic resonance imaging and electron microscopy, and explanations for many biological and physical phenomena.

History

Scientific inquiry into the wave nature of light began in the 17th and 18th centuries, when scientists such as Robert Hooke, Christiaan Huygens and Leonhard Euler proposed a wave theory of light based on experimental observations.In 1803, Thomas Young, an English polymath, performed the famous double-slit experiment that he later described in a paper titled On the nature of light and colours. This experiment played a major role in the general acceptance of the wave theory of light.

In 1838, Michael Faraday discovered cathode rays. These studies were followed by the 1859 statement of the black-body radiation problem by Gustav Kirchhoff, the 1877 suggestion by Ludwig Boltzmann that the energy states of a physical system can be discrete, and the 1900 quantum hypothesis of Max Planck.Planck’s hypothesis that energy is radiated and absorbed in discrete “quanta” (or energy packets) precisely matched the observed patterns of black-body radiation.

In 1896, Wilhelm Wien empirically determined a distribution law of black-body radiation,known as Wien’s law in his honor. Ludwig Boltzmann independently arrived at this result by considerations of Maxwell’s equations. However, it was valid only at high frequencies and underestimated the radiance at low frequencies. Later, Planck corrected this model using Boltzmann’s statistical interpretation of thermodynamics and proposed what is now called Planck’s law, which led to the development of quantum mechanics.

Following Max Planck’s solution in 1900 to the black-body radiation problem (reported 1859), Albert Einstein offered a quantum-based theory to explain the photoelectric effect (1905, reported 1887). Around 1900-1910, the atomic theory and the corpuscular theory of light first came to be widely accepted as scientific fact; these latter theories can be viewed as quantum theories of matter and electromagnetic radiation, respectively.

Among the first to study quantum phenomena in nature were Arthur Compton, C. V. Raman, and Pieter Zeeman, each of whom has a quantum effect named after him. Robert Andrews Millikan studied the photoelectric effect experimentally, and Albert Einstein developed a theory for it. At the same time, Ernest Rutherford experimentally discovered the nuclear model of the atom, for which Niels Bohr developed his theory of the atomic structure, which was later confirmed by the experiments of Henry Moseley. In 1913, Peter Debye extended Niels Bohr’s theory of atomic structure, introducing elliptical orbits, a concept also introduced by Arnold Sommerfeld.This phase is known as old quantum theory.

According to Planck, each energy element (E) is proportional to its frequency (ν):

E= hv
where h is Planck’s constant.

Planck cautiously insisted that this was simply an aspect of the processes of absorption and emission of radiation and had nothing to do with the physical reality of the radiation itself.In fact, he considered his quantum hypothesis a mathematical trick to get the right answer rather than a sizable discovery.However, in 1905 Albert Einstein interpreted Planck’s quantum hypothesis realistically and used it to explain the photoelectric effect, in which shining light on certain materials can eject electrons from the material. He won the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for this work.

Einstein further developed this idea to show that an electromagnetic wave such as light could also be described as a particle (later called the photon), with a discrete quantum of energy that was dependent on its frequency.

The foundations of quantum mechanics were established during the first half of the 20th century by Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Louis de Broglie, Arthur Compton, Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Max Born, John von Neumann, Paul Dirac, Enrico Fermi, Wolfgang Pauli, Max von Laue, Freeman Dyson, David Hilbert, Wilhelm Wien, Satyendra Nath Bose, Arnold Sommerfeld, and others. The Copenhagen interpretation of Niels Bohr became widely accepted.

In the mid-1920s, developments in quantum mechanics led to its becoming the standard formulation for atomic physics. In the summer of 1925, Bohr and Heisenberg published results that closed the old quantum theory. Out of deference to their particle-like behavior in certain processes and measurements, light quanta came to be called photons (1926). From Einstein’s simple postulation was born a flurry of debating, theorizing, and testing. Thus, the entire field of quantum physics emerged, leading to its wider acceptance at the Fifth Solvay Conference in 1927.

It was found that subatomic particles and electromagnetic waves are neither simply particle nor wave but have certain properties of each. This originated the concept of wave–particle duality.

By 1930, quantum mechanics had been further unified and formalized by the work of David Hilbert, Paul Dirac and John von Neumann with greater emphasis on measurement, the statistical nature of our knowledge of reality, and philosophical speculation about the ‘observer’. It has since permeated many disciplines including quantum chemistry, quantum electronics, quantum optics, and quantum information science. Its speculative modern developments include string theory and quantum gravity theories. It also provides a useful framework for many features of the modern periodic table of elements, and describes the behaviors of atoms during chemical bonding and the flow of electrons in computer semiconductors, and therefore plays a crucial role in many modern technologies.

While quantum mechanics was constructed to describe the world of the very small, it is also needed to explain some macroscopic phenomena such as superconductors,and superfluids.

The word quantum derives from the Latin, meaning “how great” or “how much”.In quantum mechanics, it refers to a discrete unit assigned to certain physical quantities such as the energy of an atom at rest . The discovery that particles are discrete packets of energy with wave-like properties led to the branch of physics dealing with atomic and subatomic systems which is today called quantum mechanics. It underlies the mathematical framework of many fields of physics and chemistry, including condensed matter physics, solid-state physics, atomic physics, molecular physics, computational physics, computational chemistry, quantum chemistry, particle physics, nuclear chemistry, and nuclear physics.Some fundamental aspects of the theory are still actively studied.

Quantum mechanics is essential to understanding the behavior of systems at atomic length scales and smaller. If the physical nature of an atom were solely described by classical mechanics, electrons would not orbit the nucleus, since orbiting electrons emit radiation (due to circular motion) and would eventually collide with the nucleus due to this loss of energy. This framework was unable to explain the stability of atoms. Instead, electrons remain in an uncertain, non-deterministic, smeared, probabilistic wave–particle orbital about the nucleus, defying the traditional assumptions of classical mechanics and electromagnetism.

Quantum mechanics was initially developed to provide a better explanation and description of the atom, especially the differences in the spectra of light emitted by different isotopes of the same chemical element, as well as subatomic particles. In short, the quantum-mechanical atomic model has succeeded spectacularly in the realm where classical mechanics and electromagnetism falter.

Broadly speaking, quantum mechanics incorporates four classes of phenomena for which classical physics cannot account:

quantization of certain physical properties
quantum entanglement
principle of uncertainty
wave–particle duality

 
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