The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

758 Words4 Pages
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle People are familiar with measuring things in the macroscopic world around them. Someone pulls out a tape measure and determines the length of a table. A state trooper aims his radar gun at a car and knows what direction the car is traveling, as well as how fast. They get the information they want and don't worry whether the measurement itself has changed what they were measuring. After all, what would be the sense in determining that a table is 80 cm long if the very act of measuring it changed its length! At the atomic scale of quantum mechanics, however, measurement becomes a very delicate process. Let's say you want to find out where an electron is and where it is going (that trooper has a feeling that any electron he catches will be going faster than the local speed limit). How would you do it? Get a super high powered magnifier and look for it? The very act of looking depends upon light, which is made of photons, and these photons could have enough momentum that once they hit the electron they would change its course! It's like rolling the cue ball across a billiard table and trying to discover where it is going by bouncing the 8-ball off of it; by making the measurement with the 8-ball you have certainly altered the course of the cue ball. You may have discovered where the cue ball was, but now have no idea of where it is going (because you were measuring with the 8-ball instead of actually looking at the table). Werner Heisenberg was the first to realize that certain pairs of measurements have an intrinsic uncertainty associated with them. For instance, if you have a very good idea of where something is located, then, to a certain degree, you must have a poor idea of how fast it is moving or in what direction. We don't notice this in everyday life because any inherent uncertainty from Heisenberg's principle is well within the acceptable accuracy we desire. For example, you may see a parked car and think you know exactly where it is and exactly how fast it is moving. But would you really know those things exactly? If you were to measure the position of the car to an accuracy of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter, you would be trying to measure the positions of the individual atoms which make up the car, and those atoms would be jiggling around just because the temperature of the car was above absolute zero!
Open Document