Quantum - what is it? Definition and significance for science
This article talks about the fact that "quantum" is the concept of elementary particle physics. The definition of this value is given here, its importance is shown and a brief history of its discovery is given.
Mathematics and physics
The two most terrible school disciplines for students with a humanitarian mentality once united to create a new stage in the study of the surrounding world. It all started with the fact that Max Planck, introducing the formula for the distribution of radiation of an absolutely black body, introduced the concept of "quantum". The meaning of the word is literally: the smallest portion of something, for example, energy, field, moment of inertia.
And this concept applies to the microworld: there can be a quantum of light and a gravitational field, but there can be no quantum of mass or rain. To make the reader clearer, we give an example. If all possible states of an electron were a whole cow, then a quantum is the smallest portion of meat with which you can be fed, that is, one steak.By the way, in the famous James Bond film, the quantum of mercy surely implies that even the most stale person has at least a little compassion in his soul.
The fight for quantum physics
At first, Max Planck acted within the framework of previous ideas about physics. He introduced a quantum into the equation, the meaning of which in his eyes consisted only in the convenience of mathematical expression. Thus, it turns out that he discovered this concept almost by accident, without seeking to make a breakthrough.
In general, he was a conscientious researcher, worked hard on each topic and brought the matter to the end. That perseverance and perseverance allowed him to turn physics. There were no brilliant insights and sudden ideas. Perhaps that is why for a long time he denied the importance of his discovery and tried to somehow “fit”, reconcile the new concept with the old approach to physics. A whole galaxy of scientists, who appeared due to the introduction of the quantum, could not convince him of the fundamental significance of a single assumption for the future of science.
Value for science
First of all, a quantum is the basis for understanding the nature of light.Scientists still in the seventeenth century rather accurately measured the speed of sunlight, but they could not explain their appearance or absorption by surfaces. It turned out that the energy of electromagnetic waves with the same phase increment over time can only take values that are multiples of E = (N + 1/2) ħω. We will explain:
- E is energy;
- N is an integer;
- ħ - reduced Planck constant, h / 2π;
- ω is the angular frequency, which is the time increment of the phase of the wave.
The above formula means that the radiation energy ħω is quantized, that is, it is a set of finite packets or photons.
Quantum and Matter
Having explained the nature of light, people realized that a quantum is not only a mathematical joke, but also great opportunities. Later, scientists found out why electrons in atoms can only be in certain orbits. This required the introduction of the principle of wave-particle duality for elementary particles.
The transition of an electron between two orbitals in an atom always occurs with a jerk. This leads to processes by which a light quantum is emitted or absorbed. What this fact means for science, we will explain a little below.In each type of atoms, the set of transition quanta is unique. That is, the set of energies required to excite the electrons of gold does not suit platinum. This makes it possible to determine exactly which transition was made, and to understand which type of atom is being studied: hydrogen or argon, aluminum or magnesium.
On this basis is the most powerful tool for the study and conquest of matter - spectroscopy. The applications of spectrum analysis are quite extensive, here are some of them:
- study of the composition and structure of new materials;
- improving the properties of already known compounds;
- study of the processes occurring during the interaction of different types of matter.
The reader himself will easily imagine that such a method can be used in all spheres of human activity.
Types of quanta
In addition to the photon already described, there are other types of quanta:
- Gluon is a quantum of a vector field.
- Graviton is a quantum of the gravitational field (predicted theoretically, but so far its existence has not been proven practically).
- The Higgs boson is a quantum of the Higgs field.
The Large Hadron Collider, which was built in 2012, proved that a new quantum, the Higgs boson, was born in its depths.Thus, physicists have shown why gluons and photons do not have a rest mass.
Laser as a result of the taming of light quanta
Having understood how photons are obtained, scientists were able to “tame” them. As a result, a laser appeared - a source of monochromatic electromagnetic waves. With fairly simple principles that underlie the simultaneous generation of photons of the same wavelength (monochromatic), and the simple structure of the device itself, great technical difficulties arose.
The first task was to find a material in which the inverse population of electrons would exist. The second task was to create two mirrors on the ends of the working crystal. But both of them have long been resolved, and the understanding of what a quantum is is the first step to getting such complex devices.
In the modern world, laser is used everywhere. It is used for fun (laser pointer), and for serious purposes (thermonuclear reaction).