Book · General · TV

Pondering the infinitely small and large

So, after viewing some documentaries on modern physics and reading some books by “rock stars” in the field (see below), I felt a need to revisit my past musings, review topics and terminology, and organize all the “wow!” and “huh?” moments in my exploration.

Recent media experiences:

Everything and Nothing, two linked TV documentaries on Cosmology (Everything about astrophysics and the big bang, and Nothing about quantum physics and the vacuum) for BBC4, 2011

The Secrets of Quantum Physics, two-part TV documentary for BBC in 2014 (Episode 1: quantum entanglement; Episode 2: quantum biology — quantum bird, quantum nose, quantum frog, quantum tree)

2017 Edition of Stephen Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time. When I finished reading it, the material seemed all too familiar; so, I likely read an earlier edition of the book years ago.

The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (May 10, 2016) by Sean Carroll


4 thoughts on “Pondering the infinitely small and large

  1. When did I start taking it for granted that there are billions of galaxies? When I was growing up? Well, at least after I purchased my first set of Hale Observatory slides. I need to remember that it was only after Edwin Hubble’s observations in the 1920’s that consensus developed that there were indeed other galaxies beyond our Milky Way. With each generation of more powerful telescopes, empty patches of space resolved to vast starscapes and fuzzy objects resolved to cosmic wonders. Mind-boggling galaxies with trillions of stars!

  2. Group Exercise:

    1. Experience: What’s the smallest thing you’ve ever seen? The largest?
    2. Knowledge: What’s the smallest thing that exists? The largest?
    3. Imagination: What’s the smallest thing you can think of? The largest?

    The subatomic scale is daunting enough. If a proton is scaled to the size of the Earth — as a spheroid with a diameter of 12,742 km, then a millimeter-sized ball is only on the order of 10^-10 in comparison. Another 10^-10 reduction in size is needed to get a sense of the Planck scale. That is, the relative size of a proton to the Planck length.

    How big is our galaxy, the Milky Way? How about other notable galaxies? How many galaxies are there in the universe?

  3. 2-19-2014

    Whether we ever will “grasp” subatomic or Planck-level realities, related technology probably will advance. Imagine advanced mathematical models, virtual reality, and “3d” printing combined in a device which assembles objects from atoms. Such technology was dramatized in the TV series Stargate SG-1 as a device to build Merlin’s weapon against the Ori [cite]. Or consider the virtual reality “pssi” tech portrayed in The Atopia Chronicles novels [cite] extended to nano manufacturing.

  4. In pondering the infinitely small, there’s not just matter, but also anti-matter.

    Wired > “Physicists Take Their Closest Look Yet at an Antimatter Atom” – Scientists at CERN found a way to trap hydrogen’s mirror twin, antihydrogen, long enough to study – by Sophia Chen (February 19, 2020).

    When a matter and antimatter particle meet, what happens? Annihilation, eh. Well, according to this article, sometimes there’s light (electromagnetic energy), sometimes no noticeable effect.

    But the point here is researchers’ ability to assemble and study anti-atoms at all.

    To make antihydrogen, the ALPHA team used CERN’s particle colliders and other machines, which produce antiprotons and positrons. For this experiment, they mixed about 90,000 antiprotons with 3 million positrons at a time, at half a degree above absolute zero. Such cold temperatures are necessary to slow down antimatter, so that the particles don’t knock into their surroundings and vanish themselves out of existence. These mixtures produced just 30 antihydrogen atoms, which they collected in a long cylinder, roughly the diameter of a paper towel tube, that is held in vacuum. Accumulating the particles over two hours, they managed to collect about 500 anti-atoms. Then, they beamed a pulsing laser at the antihydrogen, which caused the anti-atoms to emit light, whose colors they measured.

    … in this latest work, ALPHA adapted a 1947 experiment, first performed on hydrogen atoms by Willis Lamb and Robert Retherford at Columbia University, for antihydrogen. They measured a property in antihydrogen’s spectrum called the Lamb shift, named after Willis Lamb, who discovered it in hydrogen. Lamb’s work led to the realization that, when illuminated by a certain type of laser light, hydrogen emits two very similar but ultimately distinct shades of ultraviolet, which physicists had previously believed to be just one frequency. To explain why hydrogen emits both colors, physicists developed the new theory of quantum electrodynamics, which forms the basis of particle physics theory today. Quantum electrodynamics, for example, revealed to physicists that empty space is never really empty—particles pop in and out of existence, a reality that researchers must acknowledge when analyzing the aftermath of every particle collider experiment.


    Atomic orbital

    Electron shell


    Hydrogen atom. Relativistic corrections of energy terms: relativistic mass correction, Darwin term, and spin-orbit term. Fine structure. Lamb shift. Hyperfine structure.

    Hydrogen orbitals > [Without correction] The 2s and 2p orbitals have the same energy for hydrogen. They are said to be degenerate energy levels, all the same.

    Hydrogen subshells

    There are four types of orbitals: s, p, d and f (sharp, principle, diffuse and fine / fundamental). Within each shell of an atom there are some combinations of orbitals.

Comments are closed.