Guide to the Cosmos
Making the Wonders of our Universe

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Robert L. Piccioni, Ph.D.

The Micro-World of Particles
& Quantum Mechanics


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Decreasing diversity in nature.

As we peer deeper and deeper into nature we see less and less diversity. The Macro-World (everything we can see by eye) explodes with diversity — every galaxy, every person, and even every snowflake is unique. But at a smaller scale, everything is made of molecules, which are far less diverse, and these are made of atoms, of which there are only hundreds of different types.

The Micro-World of Quantum Mechanics seems bizarre due to its small size and “quantization.” The Micro-World is dominated by “staircases” that, for example, allow electrons only a few orbits in atoms. At this scale, the steps have dramatic consequences. Since we are vastly larger than electrons, we don’t perceive the steps and instead see continuous ramps.

The Macro-world versus the Micro-World

Everything in nature is both a particle and a wave.

Before Einstein, physicists were sure particles and waves were entirely different, separated by a great wall, with light being a wave. Einstein showed that light was both a particle and a wave, leading to particle-wave duality, the realization that everything is both a particle and a wave.

On the upper left are interference fringes, a hallmark of wave behavior, produced by light passing through two slits in a barrier. On the right, light was replaced by an electron beam. Below we see individual dots where 200 electrons hit the detector, proving electrons are particles. Above, after 140,000 electron hits, we see interference fringes proving electrons are also waves.

Proof that electrons are both a particle and a wave

Schrodinger's Cat Thought Experiment.

A sealed box contains a cat and a bottle of poison gas that opens at a random time. The question is: “Can the cat be both alive and dead.” Bohr said yes, until we open the box and look inside. Einstein said that was crazy. In the Micro-World, Bohr is correct. In the Macro-World of real cats, my money’s on Einstein.