Thursday, October 23, 2008

History of Quantum Mechanics

History of Quantum Mechanics
Quantum mechanics is the study of mechanical systems whose dimensions are close to the atomic scale, such as molecules, atoms, electrons, protons and other subatomic particles. Quantum mechanics is a most intriguing theory, the empirical success of which is as great as its departure from the basic intuitions of previous theories.

It is a fundamental branch of physics with wide applications. The foundations of quantum mechanics were established during the first half of the twentieth century by Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck, Louis de Broglie, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrödinger, Max Born, John von Neumann, Paul Dirac, Wolfgang Pauli and others.

The history of quantum mechanics began essentially with the 1838 discovery of cathode rays by Michael Faraday, the 1859 statement of the black body radiation problem by Gustav Kirchhoff, the 1877 suggestion by Ludwig Boltzmann that the energy states of a physical system could be discrete, and the 1900 quantum hypothesis by Max Planck that any energy is radiated and absorbed in quantities.

According to the theorem proved by Gustav Kirchhoff in 1859 on the basis of the second principle of thermodynamics, the blackbody spectrum has a very remarkable property: It is a universal function of temperature only. In the 1877, Ludwig Boltzmann and Willy Wien restricted the form of this function by combining electromagnetism and thermodynamics. In the 1890s, spectroscopists working at Berlin measured it with the aim of determining an absolute standard for high temperature measurement. At the same time, the Berlin theorist Max Planck attempted a complete theoretical determination of the blackbody spectrum.

In 1905, Einstein computed the entropy of dilute thermal radiation from the high frequency limit of Planck’s law.

In 1913, Niels Bohr emphasized that mathematical symbols from classical mechanics permitted visualization of the atom as a minuscule Copernican system. Although suitably quantized laws of classical mechanics are used to calculate the electron’s allowed orbits, or stationary states, classical mechanics can neither depict nor describe the electron in transit.

In 1932 von Neumann put quantum theory on a firm theoretical basis. Some of the earlier work had lacked mathematical rigour, but von Neumann put the whole theory into the setting of operator algebra.

In 1933 Fermi develops a successful quantum field theory of beta decay. It describes how neutrons spontaneously change into protons and emit electrons and neutrinos.
History of Quantum Mechanics
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