April 23, 2012 - Happy Birthday, Max Planck

  • Did you know that we live in a universe in which particles poof into existence, out of nowhere, and then just—poof—disappear again?
  • A universe in which teeny particles called electrons can be two places at the same time—unless we're watching?
  • A universe in which tiny particles are spinning clockwise AND counter-clockwise at the same time?

Argh! Thinking about quantum theory can make my head hurt—because it's sooo strange! The reality of what happens at the very, very small scale of the atom seems almost completely opposite of what common sense tells us—because our common sense has to do with much larger objects such as apples and rocket ships and fleas.

The implications of quantum theory even upset the “father of quantum physics,” Max Planck.

Quantum physics
allows the possibility
of wormholes in space.
This German physicist didn't want to revolutionize physics, but he had to work with what experimental results showed to be true, and what mathematical equations proved as well. Planck came up with the idea that light and x-rays and radio waves (and other electromagnetic radiation) can exist only in certain discrete quantities or values. Here's an example: instead of light emerging from a lamp as a steady stream of energy, it is emitted in little packets of energy, called quanta. From this first idea, and thousands of experiments by many physicists all around the world, developed the quantum theory we have today.

Max Planck, who was born on this day in 1858, won a Nobel Prize for his contribution to the science he founded.

Some people think that the weirdness of
quantum physics means that it isn't true....
or that it's useless. But quantum physics is
backed up by countless experiments and is
used in many ways--such as in computers!
To learn more about quantum physics, check out:

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