Saturday, April 18, 2009

Light and the origins of Quantum Mechanics

CERN LCH 2008 in Switzerland

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
Genesis 1:1-5 KJVA

והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשׁך על־פני תהום ורוח אלהים מרחפת על־פני המים
Gen 1:2 describes the initial state as an earth without form and shape (Hebrew tohu vebohu) and primordial waters of tehom over which the Spirit of God moves. The Hebrew verb used here for the movement, rachaph, indicates relaxed movement, like a bird could be easily fluttering over the deep.

"Let there be light!"

The first Word of Creation.

Light is the first thing that has been created.

I challenge you to study all the known religions in the world that are not based on Biblical revelation. Ancient and new. You will not find a parallel to this in any other religion. Only Bible tells about a personal God who says at the beginning let there be light. Then comes the rest of the short creation story in Genesis 1:1-2:3.

There is much pondering about light because it is an essential element in religion and considered the good and godly thing. There is much evidence about worship of the Sun, for example Sol invictus was the favourite god of emperor Constantine the Great and we have the oratorio of emperor Julian the Apostate to this Roman god. We have the fascinating hymn by Pharaoh Akhenaten praising his only god, the Sun on Egyptian sky. We know about Sun worship by the Inca in Peru and so on. There are important philosophical thinkers and students of nature who try to figure out what is light.

Pharao Akhenaten (died 1336 B.C.)
Worshipped only one god, the Sun, Aten

I challenge you to find anywhere out there this message in the beginning of the Bible that the first thing personal God created was light. Even before Sun and Moon were made on the sky above us to give us light day and night and to help us to follow the passing of time.

It is very important for modern day Jew, Christian or Moslem who believes in the God of Israel to realize the significance of light to the most fundamental scientific study of the nature. Light simply penetrates to the deepest secrets of modern Physics, Chemistry and its understanding requires very high knowledge of Mathematics, Theoretical Physics, Nuclear Physics and other sciences. And still there are many questions left.

The study of what is light has led to the Big Bang of modern scientific view of the world and is a most interesting and important field of research one can imagine, reaching from the tiniest particles in the atoms to the birth of millions of galaxies in the space.

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)

The wheels were set in faster motion in 19th century Scotland where James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) was able to put together all what was known at that time about electricity, magnetism with optics! In other words, he noticed that also light is some type of electro-magnetism. Maxwell's Laws is fundamental theory of electromagnetism that could be tested experimentally. His work in electromagnetism has been called the "second great unification in physics", after the first one carried out by Isaac Newton. (By the way, Maxwell studied optics and took the first known colour photograph in 1861.)

By stating that light is electromagnetic radiation J.C. Maxwell opened the door to other scholars to start to explore this direction but the questions were quite thorny. Light is not a simple matter.

Karl Ernst Ludwig Marx Planck (1858 - 1947) was born in Kiel, Germany. Both his grand father and his grand-grand fathers had been professors of Theology in Göttingen University. His father was professor of Law in Kiel and Munich Universities. Already as a 10 year old boy he dropped the r from his first name and is today known around the world simply as Max Planck.

The fundamental idea this genius of Physics was the realization that any energy is radiated in packages he called quantum by the Latin word for "how great" or "how much". To be more specific, his quantum hypothesis states

Any energy is radiated and absorbed in quantities divisible by discrete ‘energy elements’, E, such that each of these energy elements is proportional to the frequency ν with which they each individually radiate energy, as defined by the following formula:
 E = h \nu = \hbar \omega\,
where h is Planck's Action Constant.

Max Planck photographed in 1901

This picture tells us more than thousand words! Formulating and validating the quantum hypothesis was not a picnic even to someone with the brainpower of Max Planck.

Light is not a simple thing.

Well. It took another genius to put one plus one.

Planck was himself thinking that he had just described attributes in the processes of absorbing and emission why shining light can eject electrons from certain materials but has nothing to do with light itself.
A German-Jewish worker in a patent office in Bern, Switzerland
photographed 1904 just before his Annus Mirabilis 1905

After some pretty heavy thinking Einstein said in 1905 that not only so. On the basis of Planck's quantum hypothesis Albert postulated that

light itself consists of individual quanta

Light is a particle. This idea is of such fundamental importance to everything we know about space and earth and atoms and galaxies that I give you the exact reference of this milestone in history of natural sciences

A. Einstein, Über einen die Erzeugung und Verwandlung des Lichtes betreffenden heuristischen Gesichtspunkt (On a heuristic point of view concerning the production and transformation of light), Annalen der Physik 17 (1905) 132-148.

That was some spark of light!

This article is one in the series of papers on Physics Albert Einstein wrote in 1905 and later humanity has learned to respect this time as the Annus Mirabilis - the miraculous year.


So thanks to the work of so many people which culminated in J.C. Maxwell's understanding of also light as a form of electromagnetic radiation and the breakthrough concept of quantum presented by Max Planck and the spark of genius by Albert Einstein in 1905 it was understood by us humans that light is not just a wave but also a particle that has a measurable energy, a photon.

Wave-particle duality is an important aspect of light and other electromagnetic radiation and is one of the things that led to the modern science of quantum mechanics. It is one of the most fundamental fields of research in modern Physics and Chemistry with enormous impact on our understanding of God's creation.

But there was a teeny weeny little problem.

On one hand, Albert explained gravity in his general theory of relativity in such a way that it still puts people to gasp for air. On the other hand, he moved Planck's quantum hypothesis forward in such a way that it developed into a red hot new branch of scientific research called Quantum Physics.

The tiny problem is that the two theories do not fit so well together, relativity and quantum mechanics.

What can we do? Light, the first thing created by God, is not a simple thing.

Stephen Hawking with his daughter Lucy

Some of the most gifted modern students of Physics and Cosmology, like the famous Stephen Hawking, are busily looking for a great unification theory that would put the general theory of relativity and quantum physics nicely into a single theory that explains it all.

Scientists at work in Fermilab, USA

Well. They keep trying and build enormous particle accelerators to find that God's particle, Higgins particle, like now is going on in LHC 2008 at CERN in Switzerland and in the huge accelerator running in the Fermi lab in USA.

Join the group of scholars!

Find out about light and formulate a theory for gravity. Nobel price of Physics is surely yours if you succeed.

In a very interesting way the exploration of the biggest things in cosmology and astronomy has approached the study of the smallest things, particles and strings.

As Georges Lemaître said it: in the beginning there was a cosmic atom.

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