October 1, 2015
Isaac Newton ruled supreme in physics for 200 years, until trouble with the details (like the “ultraviolet catastrophe”) came to the fore by the end of the 19th century.
Then in 1900, Max Planck introduced the concept of a quantum of energy that explained why the proverbial poker in the fire went from red, to white, to the blue end of the spectrum… All to do with the frequency of different sized packets of energy.
University of Otago Prof David Hutchinson, director of the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies, used analogies from children on swings to fast running rugby props to carry the crowd of around 60 through his “back of the envelope” equations linking Planck to Einstein, energy to frequency, double-slit wave diffraction to the coast in England… and beyond.
I guess you had to be there…
Because otherwise, as Einstein said of the birth of quantum mechanics; “marvellous, what ideas young people have these days, but I don’t believe a word of it.”
Quantum mechanics is neither magical nor mystical, Prof Hutchinson said, but it is “the most successful physics theory ever”.
Potential economic uses vary from tiny gyroscopes and aeroplane technology to medical imaging to allow us to see inside objects. Added Prof Hutchinson, none of this presented a problem with respect to the “tyranny of distance” that otherwise faced many New Zealand exports.
His final message? Go forth and study physics…
With thanks to the University of Otago for stretching their Winter Lecture Series both into spring and into Queenstown, especially for Catalyst.