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Uncertainty principle: About Heisenberg
In February 1927, the youthful Werner Heisenberg created a central piece of quantum theory, the principle of uncertainty, with significant implications. Werner Heisenberg was born in Germany in December 1901 to a renowned academic clan. In his childhood, he was fond of mathematics and technological devices, and his faculties thought he was extraordinarily talented. In 1920, he pursued his studies at the University of Munich, and within two years he released four papers on physics under the guidance of his mentor viz., Arnold Sommerfeld. Heisenberg became a personal admirer of Wolfgang Ernst Pauli, a student of the same university and late rose to fame as one of the pioneers in Quantum Physics. Heisenberg obtained his doctorate in 1923 with a thesis on a problem in hydrodynamics, although he almost tasted failure due to his poor performance on the required experimental verbal examination topics. After earning his doctorate, he served as an assistant to Max Born in Göttingen, then spent a year working with Niels Bohr at his institute in Copenhagen. The dominant quantum theory in the early 1920s modeled the atom as having electrons in fixed quantified orbits around the nucleus. Electrons may switch to higher or lower energy by absorbing or emitting a right photon wavelength.

The system performed well for hydrogen, but ran into trouble with larger atoms and molecules. Physicists realized that a new theory was required. Heisenberg disagreed with the current model because he believed that one could not actually observe the orbit of electrons around the nucleus. Those orbits could not really be assumed to exist. Only the array of light released or absorbed by atoms could be detected. Beginning in 1925, Heisenberg set out to work on an effort to establish quantum mechanics that relied solely on properties that could be measured, at least in principle. With the support and inspiration of many colleagues, Heisenberg has established a new approach to quantum mechanics. Essentially, he took quantities such as position and velocity, and found a new way to interpret and manipulate them. Max Born defined the odd math as matrices in Heisenberg’s system. There were many observed properties of atoms in the current formulation. Soon after Heisenberg developed his matrix-based quantum mechanics, Erwin Schrödinger developed his wave formulation. The absolute square of Schrödinger’s wave function was eventually interpreted as the likelihood of finding a particle in a particular state.

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Schrödinger’s wave method, which he later proved to be mathematically similar to Heisenberg’s matrix methods, became a more common technique, partially because physicists were more familiar with it than with unfamiliar matrix mathematics. Heisenberg was irritated by the lack of popularity of his own system, particularly because a lot was at stake at the time when he and other young scientists were starting to search for their first job as professors as an older generation of scientists. While others may have found the wave method simpler to use, Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics inevitably led him to the uncertainty theory for which he is best known. For matrix mathematics, it is not always the situation that is a x b = b x a, and for pairs of variables that do not change, such as position and velocity, or energy and time, an unknown relationship occurs. Heisenberg also performed a hypothetical scenario. He believed that he was attempting to determine the position of an electron with a gamma-ray microscope. The high-energy photon used to illuminate the electron would send it a blow, shifting its momentum in an unknown manner. A higher resolution microscope will need higher energy light, giving the electron an even greater blow.

The more specifically he tried to quantify the position, the more unpredictable the momentum would become, and vice versa, Heisenberg concluded. This instability is a crucial aspect of quantum mechanics, not a weakness of any specific experimental device. In March 1927, Heisenberg submitted his paper on the theory of uncertainty for publication. Niels Bohr pointed out some mistakes in Heisenberg’s reasoning but accepted that the theory of uncertainty itself was correct, and thus, the paper was written. The new concept had profound consequences. Previously, it was assumed that if one knew the exact position and momentum of a particle at any given moment, and all the forces acting on it, one might predict its position and velocity at any point in the future, at least in theory. Heisenberg had realized that it was not valid, since people could never know the exact position and momentum of a particle simultaneously. The theory of uncertainty soon became part of the basis for the generally accepted Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, and Heisenberg and Max Born proclaimed the quantum revolution to be successful at the Solvay conference in Brussels. During the winter of 1927, Heisenberg became faculty at the University of Leipzig, making him the youngest full-time professor in Germany. In 1932, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his research on quantum mechanics. In Germany, he pursued his academic work. During the Second World War, although he was not a member of the Nazi party, he was a patriotic German citizen and was a pioneer in the German fission project, which attempted to create a nuclear bomb. The behavior and motives of Heisenberg have been the topic of debate ever since.

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Would you like to read more about this topic? This book might interest you: Uncertainty Principle of Werner Heisenberg.

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