What is Quantum Mechanics Good For?
Scientific American Download time: Nov 2 2010 9:18 AM ET
What could be weirder than quantum mechanics? This physics framework is responsible for any number of bizarre phenomena—theoretical cats that are simultaneously dead and alive, particles kilometers apart that can nonetheless communicate instantaneously, and indecisive photons that somehow go two directions at once.
But it is also responsible for the technological advances that make modern life possible. Without quantum mechanics there would be no transistor, and hence no personal computer; no laser, and hence no Blu-ray players. James Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota, wants people to understand how much quantum mechanics influences our everyday lives—but to do so people must first understand quantum mechanics.
Kakalios sets out to tackle both tasks in The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics (Gotham Books, 2010), an accessible, mostly math-free treatment of one of the most complex topics in science. To keep things lively, the author intersperses illustrations and analogies from Buck Rogers stories and other classic science fiction tales. We spoke to Kakalios about his new book, what quantum mechanics has made possible, and how early sci-fi visions of the future compare with the present as we know it.…
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