Quantum mechanics

Quantum mechanics is something I find absolutely fascinating. If you haven't heard of quantum mechanics, well, it's time you did!

Quantum mechanics is a theory dealing with events in the realm of physics of subatomic particles. Oh yes, you think the subatomic is imaginable eh? Reminds you of those very familiar things called electrons, protons and neutrons somewhere in the physics classes in O'Levels, doesn't it?. Well, subatomic in quantum mechanics goes wayyyyy deeper and smaller than mere electrons, protons and neutrons. Electrons are teeny weeny - only detectable by how powered expensive gear, however, quantum mechanics deals with nature at about 10,000,000th of the size of an atom. I bet you can't get an intuitive feel for something that small a size!

I certainly don't understand the least bit of mathematics involved in quantum mechanics - well, atleast not yet but I am hopeful that I can begin to get a better academic/technical idea of it in due time. I have to set aside sometime and actually spend quality time learning first. :-(

Anyway, why am I blabbing on and on about this "quantum mechanics"? Well, it poses many revolutionary ideas that will both invalidate and enhance a lot of what you know, what you think you know and change sizeable amounts of your perceptions of reality. Seriously. For example, "M theory" : postulates that the universe - our reality - is made up of 11 dimensions. You are already AND ONLY familiar with four; that's 1. forwards/backwards, 2. sideways, 3. up/down and finally 4. time. Time is something most people are unaware of except for that sunrise and sunsets signals days and that you "age" with time. The forwards/backwards, sideways and up/down can also be imagined as points in a Cartesian vector space: x-axis, y-axis and z-axis. Add time to that cartesian vector and you get the four dimensional world we are aware of. Places and events can be described by that four dimensional specification - let me give a loose example: I am writing this sitting in a chair on the ground floor in my room in Reading,UK at time 6.54 AM, Friday 24th March 2006. Can you see begin to see how it fits in the cartesian space with time as an additional dimension? Err, if you don't get it, then rack your brain for a few more hours and if you still hadn't got it - you can simply choose to forget it and go bask in the sun for another fun day.

Quantum mechanics already has many applications and more are being discovered or invented. Quantum Computing is an offshoot that promises a whole new era of computing. By new era, I don't mean the availablity of some cool new computer with a faster CPU speed measured in Ghz or computers with enough RAM to fill the buckets and wells. A new era in this case means that the whole Von-Neumann architecture goes dead. No more single process CPUs or amped up CPUs with multiples cores and parallel processing. The quantum computer doesn't even operate on binary digits that go 0 and 1, no sir, they have a new basic unit of information called a qubit. But wait, get a load of this: a qubit can be a 0 and 1 all at the SAME TIME! Ha! I bet that got you scratching your head. 0 and 1 all at the same time? Yes! Infact, if you were to take the quantum equivalent of a byte, it can represent all the values between between 0 and 255 all at the same time - quite unlike the "contemporary" byte that holds a single value between 0 and 255. Read up on Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to learn more why this is so.

There are exciting new frontiers for other computing related tasks as well. Cryptography is one of the most promising ones. The problem with the cryptographic systems of today involves the task of safely transporting keys. How do you exchange the security keys between two parties without a third party getting hold of it? How do you ensure that "secured" communication is not listened to by an undesired eavesdropper? Well, quantum mechanics offers solutions using a phenomenon called Quantum Entanglement. I won't tell you about quantum entanglement except to say it is one the sexiest facets of quantum mechanics. Sexiest I tell you!

If you are interested in numbing your brain with more quantum mechanics but can't be bothered to read up, then I recommend the following documentary program on PBS. It is available o download in small chunks of video and is quite manageable even on slower connections. The program revolves around the hunt for the Theory of Everything and presents a digestable walk through from General Relativity to quantum mechanics, String theory and M theory.
- Here's the link to the program.

If you want to do more of reading than watching the video, then here are a few interesting intro's that I had bookmarked over time.
- Feynman's Double Slit experiment (essential basics!)
- Quantum Mechanics with animations (good academic intro)
- Short introduction to quantum computation



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