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Connecting everyday experience with quantum effects

NASA’s outreach efforts over the decades have touted the benefits of space science in our (macroscopic) everyday lives. Technology. How about quantum physics?

A recent YouTube video by Sabine Hossenfelder (below) is a useful start in answering the question: How does our “big and warm” everyday experience evince quantum effects?

(from transcript) … the weird stuff that’s typical for quantum mechanics – entanglement and quantum uncertainty and the ability of particles to act like waves – are under normal circumstances really really tiny for big and warm objects. I am here using the words “big” and “warm” the way physicists do, so “warm” means anything more than a few degrees above absolute zero and “big” means anything exceeding the size of a molecule.

She presents a helpful summary of why quantum physics is not just about the “small” stuff. Such as your laser pointer.

Hossenfelder also mentions demonstrations of “double-slit” interference of “macro” objects like atoms and molecules.

• YouTube > Sabine Hossenfelder > “Understanding Quantum Mechanics #6: It’s not just a theory for small things” (Sep 26, 2020) – ” … the relevant point is that there is no limit in size or weight or distance where quantum effects suddenly stop. In principle, everything has quantum effects, even you. It’s just that those effects are so small you don’t notice.

Another science communicator, physicist Chad Orzel, discussed the topic in a 2015 video lecture: “Exotic Physics of an Ordinary Morning,” starting with a toaster oven.

Getting a general down-to-earth connection with quantum realities beyond popular hype, fictional devices, and heralded weirdness may take generations. A long game. More than just talking about “something hidden” and Big Science research.

A compelling connection might be biophysics and quantum biology. And medical tech.


Leon M. Lederman; Christopher T. Hill. Quantum Physics for Poets. Prometheus Books 2011. Kindle Edition.

5 thoughts on “Connecting everyday experience with quantum effects

  1. Speaking of the nascent field of quantum biology, this Swiss Quantum Hub article is quite helpful, with links for many technical terms and sources.

    • Swiss Quantum Hub > “Are biological processes experts in Quantum Physics?” (February 21, 2020) – The intriguing, upcoming field of quantum biology by Olivier Loose.

    [In addition to wave-like features,] other quantum idiosyncrasies that are pertinent to this article are quantum coherence, quantum entanglement and quantum tunneling.

    … the field of quantum biology suggests that quantum mechanical processes could persist in the turbulent and warm atmosphere of life. For the case of photosynthesis, … the “wavelike characteristic of the energy transfer within the photosynthetic complex can explain its extreme efficiency”.

    … scientists continue to discover the presence of quantum events in different natural milieus. As a case in point, Armin Shayeghi et al. have detected for the first time how a natural antibiotic behaves like a quantum wave. And Junxu Li and Sabre Kais have recently documented how quantum entanglement can be assessed in chemical reactions.

    Indeed, quantum biology has been delving into various biological phenomena in which quantum effects may play a part. They include, among others, Brownian motors in cellular processes, magnetoreception, cellular respiration, enzyme-catalyzed reactions, visual phototransduction, olfaction, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) mutation and photosynthesis.

    In this article, I look under the hood of two particular biological mechanisms: photosynthesis and DNA mutation.

  2. Some history, on connecting the invisible to everyday experience, using a seminal equation.

    • The Great Courses Daily > “How the Schrödinger Equation Contributed to Quantum Mechanics” by Don Lincoln, Ph.D., Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) (December 7, 2020) – from The Lecture Series: Understanding The Misconceptions of Science.

    In 1925, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger introduced an equation that contributed greatly to quantum mechanics. In simple terms, it describes what electrons do under almost any circumstances.

    To do so, one needs to insert a term that describes the situation – the V. if an electron is somewhere that nothing happens, V is zero. If it gets close to an atom nucleus, V will have a different formula.

    Initially, it shows how complex the atom orbitals are, with their varying shapes as either spheres or the shape of dumbbells.

    The probabilities of quantum mechanics do not specify where an electron is. What they show is where it is likely to be found. It is a bit complicated but real. According to quantum mechanics, an electron is simultaneously everywhere that the wave function says it is.

    This means that when the electron is finally detected, the wave function’s probabilities are no longer valid for places where the electron is not located. Yet, if the wave function was spread out before the detection and not after, then the wave function changes when the detection occurs. This is the base of the collapse.


    The equations typically include complex numbers and transcendental numbers. Yikes! Connect everyday experience to that.


    The best known transcendental numbers are π and e. All real transcendental numbers are irrational numbers. Not all irrational numbers are transcendental.

  3. Banana as neutrino pointer (ala laser pointer)? Each of us emits as well, among other common things.

    • YouTube > Fermilab > “Even Bananas 03: Why do bananas emit neutrinos?” (Mar 2, 2021) – Almost everything makes neutrinos – even bananas. But why do bananas produce neutrinos? Are they turning your kitchen into a neutrino factory? Today, we’ll talk about how each of these humble fruits emits more than one million of our favorite particles every day – and some other neutrino sources you might not expect. Join Fermilab scientist Dr. Kirsty Duffy to find out!

    Radioactive decay … beta decay … potassium … isotopes … not on the nutrition label, eh …

    An average sized banana contains about 450 milligrams of potassium, and of that amount about half a milligram is the radioactive version, potassium-40. That amount, about the mass of a single grain of sugar, translates to about 1.2 million beta decays per day. And each one of those beta decays produces a neutrino, so the banana in your kitchen is producing over a million neutrinos per day.

    … your own body makes way more neutrinos than anything in your pantry. A typical adult has as much potassium in their bodies as several hundred bananas, so as you work, eat, and sleep every day, you’re emitting hundreds of millions of neutrinos.

    On a typical day, you pick up about a hundred banana equivalent doses of radiation from your natural environment. An x-ray at the dentist’s office would be about 50 banana equivalent doses.

  4. “Real” vs. “unreal” quantum physics? Redux on the reality of the wave function – as a useful model, an optional way to simplify / streamline calculations.

    Here’s an interesting proposal that the imaginary (complex number) part of the wave function carries “real” information regarding quantum states. For example, information shared between entangled (so-called) particles – information required to explain their correlations.

    • Quanta Magazine > “Imaginary Numbers May Be Essential for Describing Reality” by Charlie Wood (March 3, 2021) – A new thought experiment indicates that quantum mechanics doesn’t work without strange numbers that turn negative when squared.

    The so-called Schrödinger equation describes how the wave function changes in time — and this equation features an i. … Physicists have never been entirely sure what to make of this.

    But using real numbers to simulate complex quantum mechanics is a clunky and abstract exercise, and Schrödinger recognized that his [alternative formulation as an] all-real equation was too cumbersome for daily use. Within a year he was describing wave functions as complex, just as physicists think of them today.

    The new research, which was posted on the scientific preprint server in January [still under peer review], finds that those earlier Bell test proposals just didn’t go far enough to break the real-number version of quantum physics. It proposes a more intricate Bell experiment that seems to demand complex numbers.

    The new paper shows that treating the system as real requires introducing extra information that usually resides in the imaginary part of the wave function.

    Related posts

    Effective theory

  5. A device physicist in the UK collaborated with another physicist parent, a science teacher, and pupils in years 3 – 6 to design and build a muon detector.

    • Physics World > Education And Outreach Blog > “Physics in the pandemic: making particles from space tangible for schoolkids” by Andrew Ferguson, a device physicist in Cambridge, UK (31 Mar 2021) – Taken from the April 2021 issue of Physics World, where it first appeared under the headline “Counting muons in schools“.

    At sea level, muons arrive at a rate of about one per square centi-metre per minute.

    [Before a later novel design] I started to build muon detectors based on the Cosmic Watch design. … [On] a work trip to Belgium on the Eurostar train … as we travelled through the Channel Tunnel between Britain and France, it recorded a lower rate of muons than at sea level. The sea and seabed were shielding the detector.


    See also:

    • Physics Today > “An easy-to-build desktop muon detector” by Spencer N. Axani (14 June 2017) – The design of a simple, inexpensive cosmic-ray-muon detector has led to an international outreach program.

    [In 2017] Spencer N. Axani is [was] a graduate student at MIT working with Janet Conrad. He earned an undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Alberta.

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