11 September 2014

FSU physicist to discuss quantum world at September Science Cafe

If you think it’s time you learned more about quantum physics, come to the MagLab’s Science Café on Sept. 30.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – You can't see, hear or touch it. Yet without an understanding of it, we would not have microwave ovens, MRI machines, digital cameras, lasers, DVDs, solar cells and lots of other high-tech devices.

Today's world is built on quantum physics (also called quantum mechanics), and if you think it's time you learned more about it, come to the MagLab's Science Café on Sept. 30 at Backwoods Bistro.

sept11 robertsWinston Roberts.

Starting at 6:15 p.m., Florida State University Professor Winston Roberts, a theoretical physicist, will talk about all things quantum. Science Café is often packed, so come early to grab a good seat and order something tasty to eat and drink. You'll have time to ask questions, too, before it's over around 7:30 p.m.

"You live in a quantum world," says Roberts, who has been teaching physics at FSU since 2006. "Quantum mechanics is what allows us to miniaturize and miniaturize and miniaturize."

While classical physics describes the rules that govern everyday objects — things bigger than atoms and molecules — quantum mechanics describes the rules that govern the nano-world of atoms and subatomic energies. We weren't even sure the quantum world existed, however, until modern times.

"We had no expectation that such a world existed until around the turn of the last century," Roberts says, "when we started seeing hints of problems with the classical description of things."

In order to understand the quantum world, physicists needed to observe and measure objects in it. Sounds easy, right? But not so much.

Imagine for a moment that you want to measure a desk in a dark room. You can turn on an overhead light and use a tape measure to record its length, width and height. You'll probably touch the desk as you measure it, or you might move it. But none of these things — turning on the light to see it, touching it, moving it — will change the measurements of the desk itself.

Not so in the quantum world.

"When I try to measure such a very small object, the light itself will change the direction of the object," Roberts says.

Imagine if you tried, in the above desk-measuring scenario, to measure the desk using a crane to maneuver the tape measure. That's analogous to what we do, Roberts says, when we try to measure something in the quantum world.

Measurement isn't the only thing that's strange, however, in the nano-realm. Come hear more about quantum reality at the fall Science Café.

The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory is the world’s largest and highest-powered magnet facility. Located at Florida State University, the University of Florida and Los Alamos National Laboratory, the interdisciplinary National MagLab hosts scientists from around the world to perform basic research in high magnetic fields, advancing our understanding of materials, energy and life. The lab is funded by the National Science Foundation (DMR-1157490) and the state of Florida. For more information, visit us online at nationalmaglab.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest at NationalMagLab.