Hey guys. I think I have portrayed to you already that Quantum Physics is really strange. As in, not even quantum physicists understand it. Particles disappear and reappear through apparently solid barriers; particles and waves are interchangeable and zombie-living cats apparently exist (don’t worry, none of them have escaped into the world…yet). So welcome to another edition of: Quantum Physics is weird brought to you by The Aftermatter.
Now, what you see up there is the most simplistic image of an atom you will see in high-school. The nucleus in the middle, a dense cluster of particles, with electrons in circular shells around it. I assume when you were studying it you never gave thought into why the electrons were arranged like this, yet another thing you were told happen but not the reason why. But today is your lucky day! You see, this is where our quantum physics comes into play.
The idea we need to look at is called the Pauli Exclusion Principle. The main idea with this is that no two electrons can ever be in the same quantum state. So what does that mean? Well a quantum state relies on 4 quantum numbers or just simple descriptions of what the particle is doing at a certain time. I feel that if I were to go into these, it would be both confusing and unnecessary, but if you are interested, at the end of the post there will be a paragraph on it.
Anyway! What does this mean for us? Well, here is something pretty cool. This is observable in the atom (not the cool part yet), you see, the electrons have to fit into individual “shells”, and “orbitals” that are subsets of these shells and you can’t have more than two electrons in each orbital. This makes sense, however, and here comes the cool part, it is also relevant on a universal scale. Because all electrons seem to be connected in this way, that means that any time something happens to an electron somewhere it must mean that an incredibly small change overcomes all the other electrons in the universe! The light coming out of this webpage and hitting atoms in your eyes? It is making all the other electrons in the universe rearrange themselves so that it works! Every time you turn on any electron device, move a muscle or even just think, you are rearranging the universe!
Unfortunately, these changes are so small and unnoticeable that we can’t use it for communication but it is an incredibly interesting and useful concept in other ways. For example, semi-conductors, the materials that create the complicated components you will find in laptops and phones and other electronic devices, rely entirely on this effect to work, with electrons effectively stacking to form interesting and useful effects.
So, just to illustrate again that there are parts of the most basic quantum physics that can be interpreted in so many ways, there is a very interesting and strange ways in which this theory can be interpreted. A particularly famous one explains it with a very simple idea. There is only one electron. One electron in the whole of spacetime. However, that electron can travel in space and in time, and because it can travel in time, this means that it appears more than once in any time frame. Every single electron in the universe…is the same electron! It would explain why they are all so similar at least!
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this post!
For those of you interested in quantum states, there are 4 quantum numbers and these describe how the electron is in an atom. The first says which shell it is in. It is a simple number, if you look to the diagram at the top, there are two shells. Then, the next two describe the orbital of the electron. Orbitals are very interesting, they look like this, and arise due to the wavelike nature of electrons. In fact, you can see distinct similarities between the way that vibrations can appear in a membrane. The final one is something called spin. You don’t need to know very much about this but you can have positive and negative spin. This is how you can have two electrons in each orbital, they have opposite spin.