Quantum Mechanics Seen for First Time, But Mysteries Remain


Sir Isaac Newton's classic laws of physics apply well to large-scale phenomena like planetary orbits or apples falling from trees. But they seem to fall short in describing what happens at the tiniest levels--such as inside an atom.

A description of matter called quantum mechanics has been applied for over a century to the workings of the unseen subatomic world. Lasers, transistors, and magnetic effects fit a quantum mechanical model in which the essential energies of the tiniest particles come in the form of discrete "wave packets."

These wave packets seem to be capable of astonishing feats, like being in two places at once, which causes many to doubt the validity of the whole model. Now, scientists have been able to visibly capture a single quantum unit of energy, thus showing that predictions based on the quantum mechanics model of matter closely match what is really happening on the quantum level. But lingering mysteries show that current scientific knowledge is still far from being able to accurately and fully describe how the most basic building blocks of matter look or behave.

In their study published in Nature, University of California physicists manufactured a tiny device made of a thin layer of aluminum nitride sandwiched between two aluminum layers, which they then subjected to an extremely low temperature. The middle layer visibly thickened as a single quantum excitation of energy, called a "phonon," cycled through it. It also sent a tiny electrical signal from which the researchers could measure the effect of discrete quanta of energy on the device. The apparatus was cooled to less than a degree on the Kelvin temperature scale, so none of its energy came from heat during the experiment.

The researchers reported that because these results "provide clear and compelling evidence that we have created a single quantum excitation in a macroscopic mechanical object," the quantum nature of the basic building blocks of the universe has been observed with the naked eye for the first time.1

But if matter is really found in wave packets, then scientists have yet to explain the related experiments showing that the wave packets behave strangely. For example, "interference experiments show that a single electron somehow is able to 'spread out' and pass through two separate openings at the same time." Also, some tiny particles seem to be coupled such that a change in one of them produces an instant reaction in its partner "perhaps miles away."2

Many such mysteries wait to be unlocked by good scientific investigations. And despite the efforts spent thus far to observe the mystifying behavior of some of the smallest material particles of the world, scientists remain to a large degree ignorant regarding phenomena at the subatomic level.

In contrast, the Creator of all things had to have had a perfect understanding of the physical properties of the universe in order to have built biological systems that capitalize on the quantum structure of wave packets.3 This research shows that overconfidence in scientific "knowledge" is an easy trap to fall into, and that even the most mind-bending natural mysteries for humans are merely mundane mechanics to the Maker.

References

  1. O'Connell, A. D. et al. 2010. Quantum ground state and single-phonon control of a mechanical resonator. Nature. 464 (7289): 697-703.
  2. DeYoung, D. 1998. Creation and Quantum Mechanics. Acts & Facts. 27 (11).
  3. Thomas, B. Algae Molecule Masters Quantum Mechanics. ICR News. Posted on icr.org, February 17, 2010, accessed April 7, 2010.

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.

Article posted on April 21, 2010.