Unraveling Reality {7}

Quantum Mechanics

“All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.” ~ German physicist Max Planck

Max Planck was musically gifted, but he decided to study physics against the advice of his physics professor, Philipp von Jolly, who told Planck in 1878: “in this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few holes.” Planck replied that he had no desire for discovery; he only wanted to understand the fundamentals.

Planck soon became fascinated with thermodynamics, whose classical laws he viewed as absolute laws of Nature. His later discovery to the contrary birthed quantum mechanics.

In 1859, German physicist Gustav Kirchhoff, who Planck later studied under, coined the term black body for an object which absorbs all the electromagnetic radiation which falls upon it (in other words, an utterly opaque object). He posed the inquiry: how does the intensity of the electromagnetic radiation emitted by a black body depend on the frequency of the radiation and the temperature of the body?

Kirchhoff’s question had been explored experimentally, but there was a serious problem with the answer that classical mechanics provided.

When a black body is heated, it emits electromagnetic waves in a broad spectrum. Experimentally, emitted black body radiation always drops off sharply on the short wavelength side. Further, as the temperature increases, peak wavelength grows shorter: visibly bluer rather than redder.

Based upon the mathematical assumption that everything is infinitely divisible, classical mechanics predicts that the energy emitted in thermal radiation is evenly distributed across all wavelengths. But that does not happen with a black body. This failure of classical thermodynamics to accurately predict the spectral characteristics of black-body radiation came to be called the “ultraviolet catastrophe.”