Excerpts from the Foreword, Preface, and Part One
From the Foreword
…. We live in a special time in history. The knowledge of the world is expanding at an exponential rate. Perhaps more important, to quote one of my favorite scientists of all time, Carl Sagan: “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” This is a real problem and it needs to be fixed.
And, beyond that, there is an excitement to science that most people miss out on. Part of the problem is that mathematics truly is the language of science, and the mathematics involved has become so complex that only those with a high degree of training can appreciate science in its native language. But now and then a “translator” comes along who can convey the meaning, the beauty, and the excitement to the rest of us. What Mike Walker has done in this book places him on the cutting edge as such a translator. …..
From the Preface
….. We live in a beautiful, fascinating, quantum world. We ourselves are quantum beings. All life and matter are quantum, and our technologies advance more and more based on our understanding of quantum principles. Yet most of us have only the vaguest sense of any of this.
In 1900, the German physicist Max Planck found that light is radiated from hot objects in chunks of energy, which he called “quanta.” This proved to be only the tip of the iceberg in a journey of discovery that has led to terms such as quantum revolution, quantum theory, quantum mechanics, and quantum world.
I have written this book to provide for the thoughtful general reader a readily understandable view into this quantum world. I present this view in the context of the rich history of discovery and conflict in science and human events experienced during the last one hundred and twenty years. To accomplish this task I have unabashedly borrowed and simplified from the best of what has been written or otherwise presented on this subject, in each case studiously avoiding any but the simplest of math that may have been involved. …..
(by the author)
From the beginning of Chapter 1: Introduction to Parts One and Two
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. …..
(by David Toback - Thaman Professor for Undergraduate Teaching Excellence, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy, Texas A&M University September 2016)
Condensed Table of Contents
Part One: Discovery and Understanding (1900 – 1927)
Part Two: Interpretation and Mind-Boggling Implications (1916 – 2016)
Part Three: Our World of Relativity and the Quantum, from the Big Bang to the Galaxies
Part Four: The Many-Electron Atom, and the Foundations of Chemistry and Materials Science
Part Five: Quantum Wonders in Materials and Devices Large and Small