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Archive for July, 2012

The Quantum Quorner

As promised, we’re offering our brand of continuing education on the specific subject of Quantum Physics. Our frequent contributor, Matthew Bain, shall be heretofore known as “The Subatomic Professor,” when holding forth on these matters. Ed.

In the interest of setting the stage for a clear and accessible conversation about the physics of the subatomic scale and how it affects us here on the superatomic scale, it seems a glossary is a helpful resource to have on hand before we delve into concepts. This glossary is very limited in its scope, handling only the most basic terms that will likely be brought into the discussion. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please send us a note!

Quantum Glossary

Phenomenon: a fact or occurrence that can be observed. (plural: phenomena)

Subatomic: on a scale smaller than the atom, or involving phenomena at this level.

Superatomic: on a scale larger than the atom, or involving phenomena at this level.

Energy: The property of matter and radiation that is manifest as a capacity to perform work (such as causing motion or the interaction of molecules.)

 Matter: That which occupies space, especially as distinct from energy. The substance that composes bodies which are perceptible to the senses.

 Gravity: The force that attracts a body toward the center of the earth, or toward any other physical body having mass.

Physics: The branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy. The subject matter of physics, distinguished from that of chemistry and biology, which includes mechanics, heat, light and other radiation, sound, electricity, magnetism, and the structure of atoms. For our purposes, we’ll begin with defining two branches of physics.

Quantum: [plural: quanta] a discrete (separate), indivisible quantity of energy proportional in magnitude (size) to the frequency of the energy it represents. Also used to describe the branch of applied mathematics dealing with motion and the forces producing motion.

Classical Physics: The branch of physics that is based on the assumption of Classical mechanics and excludes relativity and quantum mechanics.

Quantum Physics: The branch of physics that deals with discrete indivisible units of energy called quanta. See quantum mechanics.

Mechanics: The branch of applied mathematics dealing with motion and the forces producing motion.

Classical Mechanics: Mechanics based on Newton’s laws of motion and other concepts and theories, which preceded the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics.

Quantum Mechanics: The modern theory of matter, of electromagnetic radiation, and of the interaction between matter and radiation; it differs from classical physics mainly in the realm of atomic and subatomic phenomena. The branch of mechanics that deals with the mathematical description of the motion and interaction of subatomic particles. Also known as quantum theory, quantum physics.

Quantum Theory:  see Quantum Mechanics.

Observer effect: Refers to changes that the act of observation will make on the phenomenon being observed. This is often the result of instruments that, by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner. A commonplace example is checking the pressure in an automobile tire; this is difficult to do without letting out some of the air, thus changing the pressure. This effect can be observed in many domains of physics.

Uncertainty Principle: This is based on the precept, or rule, that accurate measurement of an observable quantity must produce uncertainties in one’s knowledge of the values of other observables; no matter how hard you try you cannot obtain a precise measurement for both velocity and position. Also known as Heisenberg uncertainty principle; indeterminacy principle.