Field of Science

Oprah's take on quantum mechanics - and mine

I was checking my blog stats (read seriously procrastinating folding the laundry) and noticed that one of the search terms that was sending surfers to my other blog was "Oprah's take on quantum mechanics". She has one?

I promptly popped it into Google to see what would come up. I had to know.

I found out. The Law of Attraction. Think and you can change what happens. Proven by quantum mechanics. The Quantum Cleanse. (Don't ask - you don't want to know.)

Somehow the word "quantum" manages to sound simultaneously mysterious and scientific, and so people attach it to things that they want to sound simultaneously mysterious and scientific. Like diets and the power of positive thinking, or even theology.

I named my personal blog "Quantum Theology" as a play on the two fields I'm trained in: quantum mechanics and theology. Recently a friend of almost forty years wondered just exactly what was quantum mechanics - just what do I do for a living? Repair broken quantums?

When I say something is quantized, I don't mean it's mysterious, I mean that only certain values are allowed, and nothing in between. A good everyday example is your shoe size. You are a 5 or a 5 1/2, but never a 5 1/6. Off the rack shoes (are there any other kind these days?) are quantized.

To a physicist or physical chemist, a quantum is a fixed portion of energy. (The word was coined by Max Planck in 1900.) Quantum mechanics considers the interaction of energy and matter on the atomic level. What happens when light hits an atom? Why is it that only certain amounts of energy can be absorbed? How is it that matter can behave as a particle, and as a wave? Evidence that matter could behave like a wave suggested to Erwin Schrodinger that he could write an equation to find a mathematical description of this behavior.

So what is it I actually do? I use quantum mechanics — specifically solving Schrodinger's handy little equation — to predict the structures of molecules and their energy, then use that information to think about what molecules might exist, or how hard it would be for them to react and what products are likely to form. Right now I'm exploring molecules that are uncomfortably twisted - and topologically "interesting" (Moebius strip molecules).


  1. I just finished ABsolutely Small by Michael Fayer. (Of Stanford University). A good review for someone who studied quant but has been away from it.

    The book is supposed to be about quantum mechanics for nonscientists but I think it would be too technical for someone without a fairly strong science background.

  2. I'll have to browse Absolutely's good to have stuff for my students to read that gives them a way to bridge the math and the real world!

  3. It looks good, I've ordered a copy! Thanks!

  4. Hello, I should review my quantum physics via your blog perhaps, before I am applying for higher degree.

    If only you were teaching me quantum physics before I would not be so afraid of it:)

    It's interesting to see how science has incorporated into daily talks. Yes, I think quantum sounds cool!

    With love from Singapore:)

  5. I've finally been able to understand Bell's inequality thanks to Zeilinger's great book "Dance of the Photons". To really understand something, you have to try to explain it to someone else. Here are the links


  6. Interesting post. It got me thinking about my QM studies. Seems like a long time ago. Also, kind of reminded me of when I read Brian Greene's book on string theory. I am thinking that Quantum Mechanics and String Theory will be sitting in the same seat when it is all said and done. Keep posting doctor...:)

  7. Quantum studies have percolated deep down to school cirrucula though it still remains shrouded in mystery a little. So associating it with everyday lives helps clean the mist a little. I came across a book"Alice in quantum Land" which helps solve the problem a little.
    I am also a scholar of physical chemistry and look forward to your posts.


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