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Quantum physics myths – communicating science

[Communicating science series] [Draft]

Communicating science is more important that ever in this era. Elsewhere I’ve posted various visualizations, including Online Video, which convey physics concepts at different levels of difficulty. And I continue to seek better visualizations of quantum field theory, demonstrating the disconnect from our everyday experience while using metaphors which avoid (to some degree at least) counterproductive rabbit holes.

These articles provide a summary of some misconceptions about quantum physics.

• The Conversation > “Seven common myths about quantum physics” by Julien Bobroff, Physicien, Professeur des Universités, Université Paris-Saclay (April 14, 2019).

1 > “Quantum physics is all about uncertainty.”

2 > “Quantum physics can’t be visualized.

… we physicists are always making representations of it when we teach and popularize it. We use graphs, drawings, metaphors, projections and many other devices. Which is just as well, because students and even veteran quantum physicists like us need a mental image of the objects being manipulated. The contentious part is the accuracy of these images, as it is difficult to represent a quantum object accurately.

Working together with designers, illustrators and video makers, the Physics Reimagined research team seeks to “draw” quantum physics in all its forms: folding activities, graphic novels, sculptures, 3D animations, and on and on.

3 > “Even scientists don’t really understand quantum physics.”

4 > “A few brilliant theorists came up with the entire concept of quantum physics.

5 > “Einstein was quantum physics’ worst enemy.

6 > “Quantum physics has no practical use.

7 > “Quantum physics might explain certain alternative therapies and other mysteries.

• TBS (see comments)

Related posts

Cosmological fact and fiction re Sean Carroll’s blog post “True Facts About Cosmology (or, Misconceptions Skewered)” (January 12, 2019).

2 thoughts on “Quantum physics myths – communicating science

  1. Consider this misconception: Atoms are so microscopic that we can only talk about their average statistical behavior – we cannot isolate them and study individual interactions. > “Physicists grab individual atoms in groundbreaking experiment” by Mark Hathaway, University of Otago (February 20, 2020).

    In a first for quantum physics, University of Otago researchers have “held” individual atoms in place and observed previously unseen complex atomic interactions.

    … this quantum process, which until now was only understood through statistical averaging from experiments involving large numbers of atoms.

    “Our method involves the individual trapping and cooling of three atoms to a temperature of about a millionth of a Kelvin using highly focused laser beams in a hyper-evacuated (vacuum) chamber, around the size of a toaster. We slowly combine the traps containing the atoms to produce controlled interactions that we measure,” says Associate Professor Mikkel F. Andersen of Otago’s Department of Physics.

  2. Regarding communicating science, I enjoy seeing younger generations using visualizations for Q&A. Fermilab’s veteran physicist Don Lincoln’s done many such videos; but here’s one by offbeat Kirsty Duffy.

    How big is a neutrino? In fact, what is meant by the size of an elementary particle, a so-called point-like particle? Something that doesn’t really have a size, eh.

    It’s all about cross section. And the more that particles interact with a fundamental particle (as in a particle accelerator), the higher the cross section. (And what we’re really talking about is the interaction between the fields of those localized excitations.)

    To use an analogy, a celebrity moving through a typical crowd interacts more with people – has a bigger cross section – than a total unknown. (Think about that in terms of fields rather than collisions, eh.)

    • YouTube > Fermilab > “Even Bananas 06: How big is a neutrino?” (May 4, 2021)

    (description) Have you ever wondered how big a particle is – or how scientists even measure something that tiny? On this episode of Even Bananas, Fermilab scientist Dr. Kirsty Duffy will answer a deceptively simple question with the help of some sports equipment: How big is a neutrino? Come for the neutrino knowledge – and be sure to stay for the outtakes.

    (from transcript) With particles we … look at how likely a particle is to hit or interact with something when it moves towards it, and from there we can calculate the cross section. Watch out! This is a nice way to visualize the concept of cross sections, but bear in mind that particles are not actually spheres.

    … neutrinos experience only gravity and the weak force. Neutrinos are extremely light, hundreds of thousands of times lighter than electrons, so the pull of gravity is not strong and the weak force is, well, weak. So neutrinos really don’t like to interact. They generally just fly past things without paying them any attention. And that’s why we often say that neutrinos are really small they’re very unlikely to interact with other particles, so their cross-section is tiny. To give you a sense of how minuscule neutrino cross sections are, imagine that an electron’s cross section was the size of a basketball court. Then a neutrino with a typical energy would have the same cross section as the smallest pencil dot I can draw.

    the cross section of a fundamental particle isn’t fixed. It actually depends on the particle’s energy – a higher energy neutrino will behave like it’s a larger particle than a lower energy neutrino. In fact, the highest energy neutrinos we’ve ever measured have a cross section 10 million times bigger than lower energy neutrinos. But it’s still several hundred times smaller than the cross section of a typical electron.

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