Learning quantum physics

I have to be honest physics was never my favourite subject at school. I remember thinking that it was just a load of formulas that meant nothing to me. My total failure at O Level was because I went into the examination with not a clue as to how to work out the speed of a toy car given a certain level of friction.

I was given a book of logarithms which was very useful in that it gave me something other than the exam paper to look at.

I have come across esoteric subjects such as “relativity theory” and “quantum mechanics” and can say that I really didn’t have a clue as to what they were about.

I have recently been doing a lot of research into how we learn best. I came across something that the great physicist Richard Feynman who was a great teacher/lecturer, as well as a theoretical scientist, said was key to learning any subject and this was to explain a subject to another person in terms that are simple so that even a child could understand it.

I therefore decided that I would test this theory by looking at a number of TEDx  YouTube videos which had scientists explaining Quantum Theory. This would certainly prove Feynman’s idea on the basis that if I understood any of it, then the speakers had obeyed his dictum to make it simple and straightforward.

The best video I saw was the following:

I learnt from this talk that quantum mechanics is strange, that it is about the very basics of all things, atoms and sub-atomic particles. I found that at their smallest these sub-atomic particles can do strange things like travel through barriers and join up with other connected particles wherever they are in the universe.

The key to the crossing of barriers is that it explains how two atoms of similar type which should repel each other can actually clash and interact, which is the basis of nuclear fusion and ultimately of the heat and energy from the massive reactions of our Sun which are the basis of our life here on Earth.

I was also fascinated to find out the massive contribution to physics and astronomy of this lady:

celia p-g

I have to say that she was someone who I knew absolutely nothing about until I heard this talk but who I am pleased has now come into my brain’s memory bank.

For a talk lasting just 15 minutes, I learnt a lot about the wonders of quantum mechanics and found that Feynman was so right that any subject can be explained to anyone as long as we strip it down to basic ideas that even a child (or a 64 year old scientific illiterate) can understand!




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