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Quantum Fuzz: The Strange True Makeup of Everything Around Us

Quantum Fuzz: The Strange True Makeup of Everything Around Us

by Michael S. Walker
Quantum Fuzz: The Strange True Makeup of Everything Around Us

Quantum Fuzz: The Strange True Makeup of Everything Around Us

by Michael S. Walker


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Quantum physics has turned our commonsense notion of reality on its head. This accessible book describes in layperson's terms the strange phenomena that exist at the quantum level—a world of tiny dimensions where nothing is absolutely predictable, where we rethink causality, and information seemingly travels faster than light. The author, a veteran physicist, uses illuminating analogies and jargon-free language to illustrate the basic principles of the subatomic world and show how they explain everything from the chemistry around us to the formation of galaxies. He also explains how scientists and engineers interact with this nebulous reality and, despite its mysteries, achieve results of great precision. Up front is a brief history of the early 20th-century "quantum revolution," focusing on some of the brilliant individuals whose contributions changed our view of the world—Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Paul Dirac, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schroedinger, and others. The work concludes with a discussion of the many amazing inventions that have resulted from quantum theory, including lasers, semiconductors, and the myriad of electronic devices that use them. Lucidly written, this book conveys the excitement of discovery while expanding the reader's appreciation for a science that explores the basis of everything we know.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781633882393
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Publication date: 02/14/2017
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 706,536
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Michael S. Walker, PhD, is a retired physicist, materials scientist, engineer, inventor, and project manager, who holds degrees from MIT and Carnegie Mellon University. His research has been mainly focused on the development of superconductors and superconducting power applications of a scale to light cities. He is the author or coauthor of more than seventy technical papers and holds a dozen patents. In 1989, he was voted Inventor of the Year by the Eastern New York Patent Law Association for conceiving and developing a unique way of separating minerals using magnetic fluids.

Read an Excerpt

Quantum Fuzz

The Strange True Makeup of Everything Around Us

By Michael S. Walker

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2017 Michael S. Walker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63388-240-9



Ours is a quantum world, but the discovery of that world took many decades of experimental and theoretical work. Starting in 1900, a radical new theory was developed that explained the chemistry of the elements, the periodic table, the sizes of atoms, why we are the size that we are, and various phenomena that had defied explanation using the conventional classical view of the world that existed until that time (including, for instance, Newton's laws of motion that describe the falling apple and the orbits of the planets).

The new conceptual ideas are referred to broadly as quantum theory, and the mathematical approaches that were developed to describe and integrate these ideas into a generally applicable method of calculation are known as quantum mechanics. Collectively this body of work has been called "the most successful set of ideas ever devised by human beings" and "the most powerful physical theory that has ever been devised."

Until 1925, quantum theory was an assemblage of ad hoc postulates, assumptions, and quasi-classical constructs that managed to explain experimental findings. But in the next several years a firm foundation for the overall effort was laid in place when three young scientists developed separate mathematical constructs that accurately described the one-electron hydrogen atom.

In the fall of 1927, some twenty-four of the top scientists from around the world, "the greatest gathering of physicists ever," met for nearly a week in Brussels for the fifth conference sponsored by the Belgian industrialist Ernest Solvay, this one devoted exclusively to examining these exciting, new, and continuing developments in quantum mechanics. This group and five other guests are shown in Figure 1.1. Seventeen of this group were by then or would later be recipients of the Nobel Prize in physics or chemistry. (Note: the Nobel Prize is awarded only to scientists who are alive at the time that the award is to be given. And the honor is usually bestowed many years after the work that merits it has been done. So many a worthy scientist has died before he might have received the prize.)

By the time of this Solvay conference, the physics community had divided into two camps with dramatically opposite views on the interpretation and implications of the theory: one camp was led by Albert Einstein (at the center of the first row in the figure) and the other was led by Niels Bohr (at the far right in the second row). The opposing views ran so deeply as to dispute the meaning of reality and physics itself. These views had recently been defined, but this was the first time that all of the major players on both sides would be assembled to present and discuss them. It was to be a clash of titans.

In Part One, I explain the lead-up to the meeting and how quantum theory and quantum mechanics were developed. I describe experiments, ideas, and the people involved. In Part Two, I describe the meeting and the controversy over the new theory's arrival, explore its mind-boggling implications, and tell of much later definitive experiments that would judge the debate.

Note that in providing the historical narrative for these Parts One and Two I draw heavily on the excellent book QuantumEinstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality, by Manjit Kumar. And, at appropriate points throughout these same parts and also in Part Three, I indicate the awards of Nobel Prizes in Physics and recite the rationale that the Nobel Foundation gave for each award. My source for all of these citations is a section titled "Nobel Prize Winners," in Physics: Decade by Decade, by Alfred B. Bortz, a book of the Twentieth Century Science series.


Throughout this book, I avoid all but the simplest of mathematics. Instead, I use a "scientific shorthand" to describe a few simple physical relationships. And, because you will encounter here and there some very large and some very small numbers, I simplify by using a "scientific notation." A couple of examples of both the shorthand and the notation are provided and explained in the indented paragraphs that follow. I suggest that you take a couple of minutes now to look at these examples so that you will be familiar with both conveniences and can easily proceed in those instances where you may need them.

For example, I will refer to the speed of light as c, which we know from Einstein's formula E = Mc2 for the energy equivalent of a mass of material. (This formula, or equation, is just a scientific shorthand.) And c is just a shorthand for the number and the units describing the speed of light. c = 299,793,000 meters per second, where 299,793,000 is the number and meters per second contains the units (meters and seconds) and is written in shorthand as m/s. (Note that a meter, the standard international [SI] unit of length, is just three inches longer than a yard. You may be familiar with the terms "yardstick" or "meter stick" to measure length.) The superscripted 2 after the c simply means that c is multiplied by itself, c x c.

To concisely and sometimes approximately express large numbers such as c, we'll be using a scientific notation in which we: (a) round off to the first few digits expressed in decimal form (2.998, for our example), and then (b) multiply by the number ten raised to a superscript ("power") given by the total number of digits that would follow the decimal point. (This is the same as the number 10 multiplied by itself that many times.) So, in this notation, c = 2.99 8 x 108 m/s. The number of digits shown may depend on the precision to which a quantity is known or the degree of precision needed in its use. Rounding off further, we would have the easy-to- remember c = 3 x 108 m/s. (Here 10 represents ten multiplied by itself eight times.)

We will also encounter some very small numbers. For example, the mass of an electron is 0.00000000000000000000000000000091083 kilograms, where one kilogram is about 2.2 pounds. We write this as 9.1083 x 10-31 kg, where the minus sign in 10-31 indicates that 9.1083 is divided by 1031, that is, divided by ten thirty-one times.


Excerpted from Quantum Fuzz by Michael S. Walker. Copyright © 2017 Michael S. Walker. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword David Toback 11

Preface 15

Part 1 Discovery and Understanding (1900-1927) 19

Chapter 1 Introduction to Parts One and Two 21

Chapter 2 Planck, Einstein, Bohr- Experiments and Early Ideas 25

Chapter 3 Heisenberg, Dirac, Schrödinger- Quantum Mechanics and the Quantum Atom 59

Chapter 4 Application-Six Hundred Million Watts! 83

Part 2 Interpretation and Mind-Boggling Implications (1916-2016) 89

Chapter 5 The Essential Features of Quantum Mechanics 91

Chapter 6 Clash of Titans-What is Real? Uncertainty, Entanglement, John Bell, and Many Worlds 95

Chapter 7 What Does It All Mean?-Quantum Mechanics, Mathematics, and the Nature of Science 125

Chapter 8 Applications-Quantum Computing, Code Cracking, Teleportation, and Encryption 129

Part 3 Our World of Relativity and the Quantum, from the Big Bang to the Galaxies 153

Chapter 9 Galaxies, Black Holes, Gravity Waves, Matter, the Forces of Nature, the Higgs Boson, Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and String Theory 155

Section I Obtaining a Map of the Universe (Basically an Introduction to Understanding the Universe in Which Our Trip Takes Place) 156

Section II Sightseeing (A Quick Tour through the Evolving Universe, from the Big Bang and the Very Small to the Present and the Very Large, with Stops Afterward to Explore Particular Sights, including Those Topics in the Title to This Chapter) 172

Section III Key Aspects of the Big Bang Model 190

Section IV Approaching the Big Bang (Creating the Conditions of the Hot "Quark Soup" just after the Big Bang, to Explore the Fundamental "Building Block" Particles of Nature and the Particles That Convey Nature's Forces) 197

Part 4 The Many-Electron Atom and the Foundations of Chemistry and Materials Science 221

Chapter 10 Introduction to Part Four 223

Chapter 11 Energy, Momentum, and the Spatial States of the Electron in the Hydrogen Atom 227

Chapter 12 Spin and Magnetism 233

Chapter 13 Exclusion and the Periodic Table 237

Chapter 14 The Physics Underlying the Chemistry of the Elements 261

Chapter 15 A Few Types of Chemical Bonds, for Example 269

Chapter 16 The Makeup of Solid Materials 275

Chapter 17 Insulators and Electrical Conduction in Normal Metals and Semiconductors 279

Part 5 Quantum Wonders in Materials and Devices, Large and Small 285

Chapter 18 Nanotechnology and Introduction to Part Five 287

Chapter 19 Superconductors I-Definition and Applications in Transportation, Medicine, and Computing 291

Chapter 20 Fusion for Electrical Power, and Lasers Also for Defense 297

Chapter 21 Magnetism, Magnets, Magnetic Materials, and Their Applications 303

Chapter 22 Graphene, Nanotubes, and One "Dream" Application 309

Chapter 23 Semiconductors and Electronic Applications 319

Chapter 24 Superconductors II-Large-Scale Applications in Science, Power Generation, and Transmission 325

Acknowledgments 333

Appendix A The Nature and Spectrum of Electromagnetic Waves 337

Appendix B Empirical Development of the Periodic Table of the Elements 345

Appendix C Quantum Computer Development 357

Appendix D The Atomic Sizes and Chemistries of the Elements 363

Appendix E The Production of X-Rays 375

Notes 377

Glossary 399

References and Recommended Reading 421

Index 425

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