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College Physics

Introduction to Quantum Physics

College PhysicsIntroduction to Quantum Physics

A magnified image of a black fly obtained from an electron microscope showing its antennae and tentacles.
Figure 29.1 A black fly imaged by an electron microscope is as monstrous as any science-fiction creature. (credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture via Wikimedia Commons)

Chapter Outline

29.1 Quantization of Energy
  • Explain Max Planck’s contribution to the development of quantum mechanics.
  • Explain why atomic spectra indicate quantization.
29.2 The Photoelectric Effect
  • Describe a typical photoelectric-effect experiment.
  • Determine the maximum kinetic energy of photoelectrons ejected by photons of one energy or wavelength, when given the maximum kinetic energy of photoelectrons for a different photon energy or wavelength.
29.3 Photon Energies and the Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • Explain the relationship between the energy of a photon in joules or electron volts and its wavelength or frequency.
  • Calculate the number of photons per second emitted by a monochromatic source of specific wavelength and power.
29.4 Photon Momentum
  • Relate the linear momentum of a photon to its energy or wavelength, and apply linear momentum conservation to simple processes involving the emission, absorption, or reflection of photons.
  • Account qualitatively for the increase of photon wavelength that is observed, and explain the significance of the Compton wavelength.
29.5 The Particle-Wave Duality
  • Explain what the term particle-wave duality means, and why it is applied to EM radiation.
29.6 The Wave Nature of Matter
  • Describe the Davisson-Germer experiment, and explain how it provides evidence for the wave nature of electrons.
29.7 Probability: The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
  • Use both versions of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in calculations.
  • Explain the implications of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle for measurements.
29.8 The Particle-Wave Duality Reviewed
  • Explain the concept of particle-wave duality, and its scope.

Quantum mechanics is the branch of physics needed to deal with submicroscopic objects. Because these objects are smaller than we can observe directly with our senses and generally must be observed with the aid of instruments, parts of quantum mechanics seem as foreign and bizarre as parts of relativity. But, like relativity, quantum mechanics has been shown to be valid—truth is often stranger than fiction.

Certain aspects of quantum mechanics are familiar to us. We accept as fact that matter is composed of atoms, the smallest unit of an element, and that these atoms combine to form molecules, the smallest unit of a compound. (See Figure 29.2.) While we cannot see the individual water molecules in a stream, for example, we are aware that this is because molecules are so small and so numerous in that stream. When introducing atoms, we commonly say that electrons orbit atoms in discrete shells around a tiny nucleus, itself composed of smaller particles called protons and neutrons. We are also aware that electric charge comes in tiny units carried almost entirely by electrons and protons. As with water molecules in a stream, we do not notice individual charges in the current through a lightbulb, because the charges are so small and so numerous in the macroscopic situations we sense directly.

A model of an atom is shown. Atom is shown as a clump of small spherical balls at the center, representing the nucleus, surrounded by spherical and dumbbell-shaped electron clouds. A magnified view of the nucleus is shown as a bunch of small spherical balls.
Figure 29.2 Atoms and their substructure are familiar examples of objects that require quantum mechanics to be fully explained. Certain of their characteristics, such as the discrete electron shells, are classical physics explanations. In quantum mechanics we conceptualize discrete “electron clouds” around the nucleus.

Making Connections: Realms of Physics

Classical physics is a good approximation of modern physics under conditions first discussed in the The Nature of Science and Physics. Quantum mechanics is valid in general, and it must be used rather than classical physics to describe small objects, such as atoms.

Atoms, molecules, and fundamental electron and proton charges are all examples of physical entities that are quantized—that is, they appear only in certain discrete values and do not have every conceivable value. Quantized is the opposite of continuous. We cannot have a fraction of an atom, or part of an electron’s charge, or 14-1/3 cents, for example. Rather, everything is built of integral multiples of these substructures. Quantum physics is the branch of physics that deals with small objects and the quantization of various entities, including energy and angular momentum. Just as with classical physics, quantum physics has several subfields, such as mechanics and the study of electromagnetic forces. The correspondence principle states that in the classical limit (large, slow-moving objects), quantum mechanics becomes the same as classical physics. In this chapter, we begin the development of quantum mechanics and its description of the strange submicroscopic world. In later chapters, we will examine many areas, such as atomic and nuclear physics, in which quantum mechanics is crucial.

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