Monthly Archives: October 2013

Development of Quantum Physics VII – Atoms Are Choosy When It Comes to Wavelengths

In 1847, when Max Planck asked his physics teacher about the career outlook and the job opportunities with a degree in physics, he was advised against going into physics. (“In this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few holes.”) One of this “few holes” was the issue of the ultraviolet catastrophe of the black body radiation. Planck managed to fill this hole by making use of his quantum hypothesis. Funnily enough, as it turned out, this problem was anything but insignificant and small – its solution rather upends our whole physical conception of the world and lays the foundation of a new extensive and very accurate theory: Quantum physics.

If Planck’s former teacher had known that his student will become one of the most famous physicists of all time, I think he wouldn’t have discouraged him from studying physics.

Max Planck in Munich, 1847
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Countless new ideas and concepts followed Planck’s quantum hypothesis, as already mentioned in the previous articles of this series. For instance, we discovered that light consists of photons (“wave packets”), that “particles” (such as electrons) can be described using wave characteristics, that, however, this resulting matter wave represents just the probability of the particle to be found at a certain point in space and time, and that there exist fundamental limits in simultaneously determining a particle’s position and momentum.

Has anyone noticed that, although we thoroughly fiddled with the microscopic characterization of light and matter, we didn’t dwell on how matter actually looks like? Or, to put it differently: How should we think of an atom? How can we figure it to ourselves? Today we will enter into this question. Read the rest of this entry

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