Models, waves, particles, cats, prizes and sheep

Holidays are over kiddies!! We started this morning by continuing to work through our Physics booklet. This morning we talked about the wave model. According to "The Little Book of Scientific Principles, Theories & Things", a model is:

A mathematical or visual picture of a particular set of phenomena. A mathematical model consists of equations and step-by-step rules that reflect what happens in a real event. A physical model represents a real object. A model is never perfect and scientists continually update their models on the basis of new observations.

So the wave model is is an idea that enables us to describe everyday phenomena such as light or sound in a way that we can understand (e.g. water waves). With us so far?

We then started to talk about how later on, it would get more complicated and we would start to get into Quantum Physics.

"But isn't Quantum Physics about time?" asked Video Boy.

"Well, not really - it's about how things behave at the very, very small level (like atoms, or photons)" I replied.

So we had a brief discussion about wave-particle model/duality (which wasn't in the booklet, but we went there anyway).  One Minute Physics has a great video to explain how light (and other electro-magnetic "waves") also behave as particles:

And then we looked at Part 2:

So things at the very small level act as two things at the same time, and depends on probability. "You know, like Schrodinger's Cat!" I piped up.


So, according to quantum physics, a cat could be both dead and alive, but it is the viewing of it that causes it to take a particular course of action. Our friend Professor Poliakoff from the University of Nottingham and Periodic Table of Videos fame explains it in more detail:

And my The Little Book of Scientific Principles, Theories & Things book further explains that Erwin Schrodinger (1887-1961) was awarded the 1933 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on wave mechanics and his Equation that describes the changing wave pattern of a particle such as an electron in an atom. The solution of the equation gives the probability of finding the particle at a particular place and now forms the basis of the electron cloud model of the atom!

And speaking of Nobel Prizes for Physics, an Australian scientist Brian Schmidt (well, he was American, but emigrated out here and now works at Australian National University in Canberra) with some other guys (that don't work in Australia!) have won the 2011 prize for their ground-breaking work on the universe expanding faster (not slower) and dark energy:

By a strange co-incidence, Brian Schmidt worked with one of the other guys on the University of Nottingham Schrondinger's Cat video (and he apparently makes a nice drop of wine too :-)

Now that you are all up on your quantum physics and Nobel prize winners, I'll leave you with Video Boy's idea of what would happen if you tried Schrodinger's experiment with a sheep...(who like to chew stuff)....

I don't know who's learning more here, me or the kids :-) Gotta love homeschooling!


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