Quantum Mechanics for Dummies: Einstein

Albert Einstein
By Georgie McDonald

As seen in Pegasus Pages (December 2012).

Have you ever wondered what an electron is, or if the atom is really the smallest thing on earth? Well, quantum mechanics is the study of sub atomic particles and, believe it or not, there are particles that are smaller than electrons and even particles that make up protons. The craziness doesn’t stop there; quantum mechanics breaks any law that you were taught in primary school and even at GCSE level. Forget Newton, let’s enter the world of Einstein, Young, and Schrödinger.
In the first article of this series, Georgie McDonald takes a look at Einstein.

Though Einstein is known for hundreds of famous modern physics theories, one of the weirdest things he predicted was the entanglement of particles, also known as “spooky action at a distance.”

It has been discovered that particles can, in theory, connect with each other at opposite ends of the universe. Einstein first noted in 1935 that quantum theory applied not only to single atoms but also to molecules made of many atoms. So, for example, a molecule containing two atoms could be described by a single mathematical expression called a wave function.  He then realised that if you separated these atoms, even by a vast distance, they would still be described by the same wave function, so they were entangled. The fate of one instantly affects the fate of all its partners.

For example, imagine there was an event in space which caused an electron to fly off to the left and its anti-particle, the positron, to fly off to the right. The conservation law states that no energy, mass or momentum can be created or destroyed. Therefore, in our example, the positron has to have the opposite properties of the electron as their properties are linked.  So if the electron has upwards-spin the positron has to have a downwards-spin. If you measure the spin of the electron then you already know that the positron has to have the opposite spin.

But afterwards, if you measure a different property of the electron, like angular momentum, then it makes the spin unobserved again. By observing the property of spin and angular moment of the electron, we have de-collapsed the wave function.  As the wave function has collapsed, we no longer know the spin of the electron and hence the positron. So if you measure the spin again of the electron, you might find that it has changed to have a downwards-spin and hence the positron has changed to have an upwarsds-spin. This information has been transmitted instantaneously across the universe!

Though you might have just forgotten how to breathe, do not fret, as even the professionals can’t get their head around this theorem! But I leave you with the famous words of Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Photography: public domain.

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