We don't know exactly where sub atomic particles are
We don't know exactly where sub atomic particles are

We don’t know exactly where sub atomic particles are

Sub atomic particles make up this screen. They make up your eyes. They even make up the space between your eyes and the screen. We know where the screen is. We can touch it. We know where our eyes are and we know where the space between is. However, when it comes to the tiny building blocks that make up the screen, our eyes and the space between, we cannot say exactly where they are. They might be here. They might be there. They may be everywhere at once. Or when we’re not looking, they may not exist at all.

In the sub atomic world, the world of quantum mechanics, we cannot ever say that something is definitely somewhere. We can only know the likelihood of finding it there. This is a surprising and unsettling concept as it does not relate to the world we see around us. Classical physics can tell us exactly where a ball is. If we throw it, we can use our mathematics to work out where it is anywhere on its trajectory at any given time. Following this through, we can work out where it will end up. This branch of mathematics is called mechanics. Mechanics is concerned with motion and force, particularly when these are applied to physical objects.

However, for sub atomic particles, the equations we use in classical mechanics do not work. Instead, scientists have to use a different set of equations. And these do not give an accurate measure of exactly where a particle is or where it will be in any given time. They can only ever give us a probability that a particle will be in a particular place now and another probability that it will be in another location after a certain time interval. In fact, it is theoretically possible that in less than a second, a particle, and I mean any particle, could move from here and reappear anywhere else in the universe.

By Graham Foster
Graham is a graphic designer with a passion for science

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