Quantum Mechanics 4: Spin, Lasers, Pauli Exclusion & Barrier Penetration by Robert Piccioni - Read Online
Quantum Mechanics 4
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This book is the fourth stage of our exploration of Quantum Mechanics in the Everyone’s Guide Series.

We first review waves and particle-wave duality. We'll revisit the Uncertaintly Principle, and discuss the Two-Slit Experiment in depth.

Then, we delve deeper into wavefunctions and explore more Quantum Mechanical mysteries: barrier penetration and spin. We’ll discover how barrier penetration allows particles to “pass through” walls, enables radioactivity, makes star shine, and powers microelectronics in all our digital devices.

Spin is a uniquely quantum mechanical property of all particles. We’ll explore how spin makes matter rigid, controls the formation of atoms and molecules, and enables lasers and superconductivity.

Published: Robert Piccioni on
ISBN: 9781310185205
List price: $2.99
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Quantum Mechanics 4 - Robert Piccioni

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Chapter 1

Quantum Basics

To make this book more self-contained, this chapter will review the most important points described in detail in prior eBooks on Quantum Mechanics in the Everyone’s Guide Series.


We previously discussed the revolutionary idea that became the foundation of Quantum Mechanics: particle-wave duality, a concept that flew in the face of everything physicists thought they knew about nature. Albert Einstein initiated this concept by proclaiming that light was both a particle and a wave. Louis de Broglie extended the concept by proposing that particles had wavelengths. We now understand that everything is both a particle and a wave. Particle and wave describe characteristics that are possessed to varying degrees by everything in nature.


Let’s review basic wave terminology. As illustrated below, waves are characterized by amplitude and wavelength. Amplitude A is how high the wave goes up above and goes down below its average height. Wavelength w is the distance between crests, which is also the distance between troughs.

Waves are motion. They smoothly move through space and change with time. A wave that oscillates through 9 full cycles per second has a frequency f of 9 Hz. The product of wavelength and frequency equals the wave’s velocity v: wf=v. Other key relationships are E=hf (for photons) and w=h/p (for any entity), where E is energy, h is Planck’s constant, and p is momentum.


Quantum Mechanics conceives of particles as being wave packets. On the left side of the graphic below are five waves of different frequencies. On the right is the sum of these five waves — a wave packet.

The original five waves extend to infinity to the left and to the right. Each has a precisely defined wavelength but a completely undefined location. On the other hand, the wave packet is somewhat localized — it is spread across a limited distance — making the wave packet more particle-like.

But, adding waves of differing wavelengths makes a wave packet’s wavelength uncertain. We find an unavoidable tradeoff:

Addingmorewaves of different wavelengths shortens the packet, making:itslocation less uncertain, but itswavelength more uncertain.

Addingfewerwavelengths stretches the packet, making:its location more uncertain, but its wavelength less uncertain.

We can trade one uncertainty for the other, but we can’t reduce both. The fact is: uncertainty is inevitable. It’s a mathematical necessity of any wave packet that the uncertainty of its location, dx, is inversely proportional to the uncertainty of its frequency, df, thus: dx ~ 1/df.


Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, one of the most important consequences of Quantum Mechanics, results directly from the properties of wave packets. Uncertainty in wavelength means uncertainty in momentum. Since a wave packet’s positional uncertainty is inversely proportional to its wavelength uncertainty, the conclusion is: dx ~ 1/dpx, where dpx is the uncertainty in momentum along the x direction. Similar equations apply to the other two spatial directions: dy ~ 1/dpy and dz ~ 1/ dpz. Additionally, Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity states time is a fourth dimension on an equal, if somewhat distinct, basis with the spatial dimensions. Einstein taught us the laws of nature are simplest when expressed in four-dimensional spacetime (see Special Relativity 2: Spacetime & Space Travel). Thus, we have a fourth uncertainty equation: dt ~