by Rich Fiori | Guest writer, In5D,.com
We see the term “quantum” used more and more. We get an intuitive sense of what that means as some very small packets of energy that make up our universe. Let’s add some depth to that understanding.
On a basic level, we and everything around us exhibit chemical properties. Our bodies are chemical factories fueled by electrical and magnetic pulses. In the chemical world, everything revolves around valence electrons. Valence electrons occupy the space around atomic nuclei and are capable of forming bonds with other atoms.
A specific example is water, composed of hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O). It is the valence electrons that bonds them together to create water (H2O). There is a dynamic balancing going on here. The reaction goes both ways at the same time. Oxygen has eight electrons occupying the space around the nucleus, two of which are valence electrons. Hydrogen has a single electron and it is a valence electron. In order to have an equitable bonding based on valence electrons, it will take two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom to create a molecule of water (simple arithmetic). The simplified equation looks something like this: 2H + O2 ==> 2H2O. Through the process of electrolysis, the reaction goes the opposite direction, 2H2O ==> 2H + O2.
There are several components of these reactions to consider. First, there has to be a conservation of energy (energy is gained on one side and an equal amount is lost on the other). Second, there must be a discreet amount of energy supplied, called a quantum of energy, before an electron is excited enough to react with and bond to another atom. In this case, there are no electrons surrounding the two hydrogen atoms called ions, which is written H+. And two valence electrons surrounding the oxygen atom, written O-. These are all just shorthand methods of communicating the dynamics of a chemical reaction.
The salient point here is the amount of energy needed to complete the reaction. What scientists (Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger, and Werner Heisenberg) discovered was there is a discreet amount of measurable (Schrodinger equation) energy needed to catalyze the reaction. Less energy than the exact amount needed and there is no reaction, more energy than needed and some is unused. The measured discreet amount is a quantum of energy. Moreover, electrons can reach several excited states called energy levels, which correspond with what’s called principal quantum numbers (1, 2, 3, . . .). Each higher level (larger quantum number) has the electron(s) exhibiting orbitals further from the nucleus. It gets more complicated based on an array of factors but this is the basic mechanism.
The Observable World
This is completely different than observable matter that can absorb (endothermic) or give off (exothermic) any amount of energy. This leads to the question: What’s the connection between the quantum world and the observable world.
The quantum world is infinitesimally small by comparison to the observable world something on the order of 1023 times smaller (that’s about 10000000000000000000000 times smaller; see Avogadro). In a sense, the quantum world is digital; following discrete quantum number energy conservation. The quantum world composes the observable world. This means that there is a law of averages that takes place between the two worlds.