Quantum Theories

Quantum theory is a Section of physics that uses Planck's constant. Just as the theory of relativity assumes importance in the special situation where very large speeds are involved, so the quantum theory is necessary for the special situation where very small quantities are involved, i.e., on the scale or molecules, atoms and elementary particles. Unlike classical physics, many of the variables in a quantum theory take on discrete values. The quantum was a concept that grew out of the realisation that electromagnetic radiation came in discrete packets, called quanta. The process of converting a classical theory into a quantum theory is called quantisation and is divided into stages: first quantisation, second quantisation, etc depending on the extent to which the theory is quantised. Aspects of the quantum theory have provoked vigorous philosophical debates concerning, for example, the uncertainty principle and the statistical nature of all the predictions of the theory.

quantum science

Quantum physics is the set of quantum theories. There are several of them:

  1. Quantum mechanics -- a first quantised or semi-classical theory in which particle properties are quantised, but not particle numbers, fields and fundamental interactions.
  2. Quantum field theory or QFT -- a second or canonically quantised theory in which all aspects of particles, fields and interactions are quantised, with the exception of gravitation. Quantum electrodynamics, quantum chromodynamics and electroweak theory are examples of relativistic fundamental QFTs which taken together form the Standard Model. Solid state physics is a non-fundamental QFT.
  3. Quantum gravity -- a third quantised theory in which general relativity (i.e. gravity) is also quantised. This theory is incomplete, and is hoped to be finalised within the framework of a theory of everything, such as string theory or M-theory.

The standard explanation of what takes place at the quantum level is known as the Copenhagen Interpretation. This is because much of the pioneering work was carried out by the Danish physicist Niles Bohr, who worked in Copenhagen. Quantum theory attempts to describe the behaviour of very small objects, generally speaking the size of atoms or smaller, in much the same way as relativity describes the laws of larger everyday objects. We find it necessary to have two sets of rules because particles do not behave in the same way as larger everyday objects, such as billiard balls. We and, for example, say precisely where a billiard ball is, what it is doing, and what it is about to do. The same cannot be said for particles. They are, quire literally, a law unto themselves, and why this should be so is a source of much debate. The classic experiment to illustrate this is the famous double slit experiment, originally devised to determine if light travels as waves or particles.


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