The Historical Development of the Quantum Theory

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A paper I wrote for Physics on the Quantum Theory.

Submitted: January 22, 2013

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Submitted: January 22, 2013




The Historical Development of the Quantum Theory

The Quantum Theory, so spoken about in Physics classes for so long, but rarely anyone understands what it means or who created it, and even once those two questions become answered so many more questions become open.  Let’s begin at the very beginning of time with who were the master minds of this whole giant theory.

This began with two men in the early 20th and 21st centuries. The first one is a man who many know all too well, sir Einstein, and the other is one that isn’t as known to science students as one might home Max Planck. Who is Planck, one may be asking. Well, Planck is the scientist who introduced the idea of discontinuity, which later on was given the name quantum (Carson).  Einstein doesn’t really need that much background, given that the majority of people already know what he has done in the science community, and know who he is.

Back to Planck. In the 20th century, Planck established a paper releasing his findings on a small experiment he had been doing on his house late one night. What he came up with, was this constant h. According to Planck, h proved itself to be a rather small number however it wasn’t zero. How it could it be zero, when the results didn’t conclude to that number? It didn’t make sense. The early 20th century was the time when the Quantum Theory “era” was developing, people coming out with all of these ideas, but this would take so much longer to become an actual reality that people didn’t expect; however, one step in the proper direction was the discovering of Planck’s constant, h (Carson).

When people write down a formula, most people expect to know where it comes from or how you justified its means, correct? Well welcome to Planck’s word during a lecture he gave in to the German Physical Society on the spectrum of light in 1900.  He gave the audience a formula, but not one they had seen before, one that had many new results and ones that people were not expecting. However Planck didn’t stop there, he wanted to justify the means of his formula by physical status. Planck started with thinking of a piece of matter, he was quite amazed that this one bit of matter is cumulated from a dozen electric charges; he added on by saying that if in certain proportions he could distribute this energy and somehow keep the proportionality of the energy, the same [h].  The formula he developed was £=hf. At the time, however, despite being recognized for his scientific achievement, Planck did not go one to giving his idea the name quanta nor did he really explain the true meaning behind his works, so only as time went on, did the true purpose of what he had been trying to do finally come crawling out of the shadows (Carson).

Surely not only Planck was a genius behind this quanta endeavor, which is more than true, this is when Einstein comes into play around 1905. Everyone thinks, right? And everyone ponders what is going on around them more and more each day, until they can’t think any longer, well for Einstein, hearing a name being thrown around from one place to another is nothing easy to come by.  Around this time Planck was just now coming into fame for his development of the idea of h, which led Einstein to think about what if this discontinuity was a product of light too? Could they be two properties of the world that tie hand in hand together that no one ever knew? What he began with was the idea of Black-Body radiation, something both Planck and Einstein didn’t see eye-to-eye on, in fact, their scientific views were so different, it was as if the two ignored one another completely when coming up with their scientific studies (Carson).

When Einstein went on to try and prove the idea of Black-Body radiation, his result wasn’t something that was expected, in fact it turned out to be something quite silly and not headed by many in the scientific community. In the end, Wein’s  Law, prove to be right both against Einstein’s thoughts and Planck’s. Using all the other discoveries coming out, Einstein developed an equation for energy having to do with radiation called “Energy Quanta,” in these modern times, we call it E=hf (Carson).

This discovery led way to the idea that maybe, just maybe, discontinuity might go on to be part of the electromagnetic world. So, like all things in the science world, two things, concepts, can be tied together with another concept.  Though both Einstein and Planck were studying the same thing, this is where their concepts and methods of attacking them become different. Planck looked at moving around charges, shifting them into more than one body but still keeping the energy equal, Einstein applied thermodynamics to the light itself; later on in history, Einstein’s proved to be the one most testable and most provable (Carson).

How many people thought that the Quantum Theory might actually go beyond light? How many just sit and drink tea as they ponder this thought while reading classic literature? None, however Einstein did. Einstein’s theory could go much deeper than anyone ever thought about how light if effected by the idea of quanta, and how possibly the light atom might affect this theory as well – that is where Planck fell short, seeing as Planck didn’t think to account for the atom’s in light when developing his much thought out, theory (Carson).

In the scientific field, there always appear to be some rising star that takes the fame from someone else, in 1910, that was the case with chemist Walther Nernst, where he brought the idea of quanta into specific “heats”, if you will.  Nernst didn’t disagree with Einstein’s statements, in fact he simply used them as a topic of discussion and looked at them as something that could be added onto and or expanded on with great detail. With Nernst in attendance, come 1911, Einstein spoke about the specific heats of his theory during the Solvay Congress; which was more like a social gathering for people to discuss what he had come up with in the scientific field. It was mutually agreed upon during this congress that the main realm that discontinuity would prove its worth would be only proved by applying the technique of quantizing oscillations applied, of course, to the line spectra; in conclusion, bringing about the idea of light emissions and absorption from the substance next to it (Carson).

The atom began coming into play with Neil Bohr’s creation of the Atom Model in 1913.  Consider the creation of the atom model, a layout for so many other things; it was like a missing puzzle, if you will. Something that needed to be written down on paper so that people understood what was actually happening with the atoms of this universe. Bohr concluded that when an electron shifts orbits [orbital rings] it does so in this sort of quantum leap. Meaning, the energy difference between the initial and final orbits is released therefore causing the photons to be created.  Simple, correct? Bohr’s model was based on his own observations created by looking at a white light spectrum, and the electric emission’s caused by such a thing. Bohr suggested that each color corresponds with a certain amount of energy, however Bohr also came across the discovery that when light given by the Hydrogen atom passes through a prism, only a select aray of colors shine through; and from this discovery, he went on to try and fight the light that a single atom releases. Because of Bohr’s model of the atom, people were able to use this creative look at the way an atom works, to develop deeper branches of thought onto the Quantum Theory (Coffey).

Around 1925, the idea of Quantum Mechanics came into play, which led to the completion of the Quantum Theory. Heisenberg’s famous paper, was the idea of tying everything that had ever been stated on the topic, together, bringing Bohr, Einstein and Planck all together to create the final definition of the Quantum Theory. Another scientist named Erwin Schrodinger got his idea for a paper in 1926 on the same matter from Heisenberg’s paper of ’25.  Being friends with Heisenberg, a man named Louis de Broglie, took a deeper look at his friends theories,  that instead of looking at the Quantum Theory as dealing with atom structure, one may want to look at it in terms  of wave-particles and slowly add on to create a deeper understanding of the entire atom (Carson).

To this day, people are still trying to develop new methods for the Quantum Theory, still trying to unhinge what the many scientists of the past have tried so hard to piece together. Despite their efforts, none have succeeded in proving Heisenberg, Einstein, Planck, Nernst, Bohr, and Shrodinger wrong in their very unique discovers that were far ahead of their time.


Works Cited

Carson, Cathryn. "The Origins of the Quantum Theory." Stanford EDU., 2012. Web. 20 Jan.


Coffey, Jerry. "Bohr's Atomic Model." Universe Today RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2013

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