Quantum Mechanics for Dummies: A Short Guide

Quantum mechanics is complex but this simple guide will have you thinking like a physicist in no time.

Zac Whelan
By Zac Whelan
7 Min Read
Quantum Mechanics for Dummies: A Short Guide
Image: Freepik

Quantum is the science “buzzword” of the 2020s. Every article you read or hear about from scientific publications is about space or some theoretical physics discovery that 0.001% of the world can understand. But the quantum realm is one of the most fascinating science topics being spoken about today.

However, it is easier to begin learning about than most people think; your journey to enlightenment starts here.

The quantum realm is a strange and mysterious place, where the rules of Albert Einstein’s classical world get a little dicey. In short, it is a place where particles can exist in multiple states or locations at the same time, where objects can be “entangled” across vast (infinite) distances, and where the very act of observing something can alter its behaviour.

Sounds like something out of Battlestar Galactica, right? In the quantum realm, the concept of reality becomes fluid and uncertain. It is a place where particles can seemingly appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly, where energy can be borrowed and paid back in the blink of an eye, and where time itself seems to stretch and bend.

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But despite its seemingly chaotic nature, the quantum realm is also a place of great order, beauty and precision. It is a place where scientists can harness the power of atoms and subatomic particles to create revolutionary technologies, from transistors and lasers to advanced computer memory and quantum computers.

The quantum realm still holds many mysteries and secrets that we have yet to uncover. It is a place that continues to fascinate and intrigue scientists, as they strive to understand its strange and elusive nature.

What does ‘quantum’ mean?

The word “quantum” refers to the smallest possible unit or quantity of something. In physics, the term “quantum” is often used to describe the behaviour of particles and energy at the atomic and subatomic scales.

In quantum mechanics, the term “quantum” is used to describe the fundamental unit of energy that is associated with the motion or state of a particle. For example, the energy of an electron in an atom is quantised, meaning that it can only exist at certain energy levels and not in between.

The concept of quantisation is important in quantum mechanics because it helps to explain why certain phenomena, such as the spectra of atoms and molecules, can only be observed in certain discrete (rather than continuous) increments.

Physics quantisation is similar to a chef carefully measuring out ingredients for a recipe. Just as the chef must carefully consider the precise quantities of each ingredient to create a delicious dish, physicists use quantisation to carefully analyse and understand the behaviour of particles and forces in the universe.

Just as a chef may have to adjust the measurements of certain ingredients depending on the desired taste or texture of the final dish, physicists may have to apply different levels of quantisation to different systems to accurately understand and predict their behaviour. Ultimately, both the chef and the physicist are striving for a precise and accurate understanding of their respective systems, whether it’s in the kitchen or in the laboratory.

Quantum mechanics basics

Quantum mechanics is a fascinating and sometimes perplexing field of physics that deals with the behaviour of matter and energy at the quantum, or atomic and subatomic scales. It is based on the principles of wave-particle duality, which states that particles can exhibit both wave-like and particle-like properties depending on how they are observed.

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One of the most famous thought experiments in quantum mechanics is the “double-slit experiment,” which demonstrates the wave-particle duality of particles.

In this experiment, a beam of particles is fired at a screen with two slits in it. When the particles pass through the slits, they create an interference pattern on a detector screen behind the slits, similar to the way that waves create an interference pattern when they pass through two slits.

This experiment is often used to demonstrate the concept of superposition, which states that a particle can exist in multiple states or locations at the same time. In the double-slit experiment, the particles passing through the slits are in a superposition of both slits simultaneously, and it is only when they are observed or detected that they “collapse” into one particular state or location.

Another important concept in quantum mechanics is entanglement, as mentioned earlier, which refers to the phenomenon of two particles being connected in such a way that their properties are linked, even if they are separated by large distances. This means that if one particle is observed or measured, the other particle will instantaneously adopt a corresponding state, regardless of the distance between them.

In addition to its practical applications, quantum mechanics has also had a significant impact on our understanding of the fundamental nature of reality.

The strange and counterintuitive predictions of quantum mechanics, such as superposition and entanglement, have challenged our traditional notions of cause and effect and have led to deep philosophical questions about the nature of the universe; questions that will likely go unanswered for millennia.

But with current scientific efforts into the quantum realm only accelerating at an unprecedented pace, the journey to understating the true nature of the universe is well underway.

Zac Whelan
Posted by Zac Whelan Founder & CEO at CONTX Media
Zac Whelan, an Australian art, science and technology lover, spends his spare time drinking gin and pondering on how today's innovations will impact the world tomorrow. A business law graduate from the University of Western Australia, Zac has extensive experience in social media marketing, online journalism and avoiding sharks at the beach.
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