Lorentz and Poincaré invariance : 100 years of relativity by J P Hsu; Yuanzhong Zhang

By J P Hsu; Yuanzhong Zhang

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Example text

Indeed, the electron’s ‘journey’ need not even be something we can talk about at all. All we have to do is find a theory capable of predicting that the electrons hit the screen in the pattern observed in the double-slit experiment. This is what we will do in the next chapter. Lest we lapse into thinking that this is merely a fascinating piece of micro-physics that has little relevance to the world at large, we should say that the quantum theory of particles we develop to explain the double-slit experiment will also turn out to be capable of explaining the stability of atoms, the coloured light emitted from the chemical elements, radioactive decay, and indeed all of the great puzzles that perplexed scientists at the turn of the twentieth century.

The more outlandish predictions of quantum theory usually manifest themselves in the behaviour of small things. But, because large things are made of small things, there are certain circumstances in which quantum physics is required to explain the observed properties of some of the most massive objects in the Universe – the stars. Our Sun is fighting a constant battle with gravity. This ball of gas a third of a million times more massive than our planet has a gravitational force at its surface that is almost twenty-eight times that at the Earth, which provides a powerful incentive for it to collapse in on itself.

The temperature field is simply an array of numbers, one for every point. In the case of a quantum particle, the field is more complicated because it requires a clock face at each point rather than a single number. This field is usually called the wavefunction of the particle. The fact that we need an array of clocks for the wavefunction, whilst a single number would suffice for the temperature field or for water waves, is an important difference. In physics jargon, the clocks are there because the wavefunction is a ‘complex’ field, whilst the temperature or water wave heights are both ‘real’ fields.

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