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In physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

, a quantum (plural: quanta) is the minimum amount of any physical entity involved in an interaction. Behind this, one finds the fundamental notion that a physical property
Physical property
A physical property is any property that is measurable whose value describes a physical system's state. The changes in the physical properties of a system can be used to describe its transformations ....

 may be "quantized," referred to as "the hypothesis of quantization
Quantization (physics)
In physics, quantization is the process of explaining a classical understanding of physical phenomena in terms of a newer understanding known as "quantum mechanics". It is a procedure for constructing a quantum field theory starting from a classical field theory. This is a generalization of the...

". This means that the magnitude can take on only certain discrete values. There is a related term of quantum number
Quantum number
Quantum numbers describe values of conserved quantities in the dynamics of the quantum system. Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of quantum mechanics is the quantization of observable quantities. This is distinguished from classical mechanics where the values can range continuously...

. An example of an entity that is quantized is the energy
Energy
In physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...

 transfer of elementary particles of matter
Matter
Matter is a general term for the substance of which all physical objects consist. Typically, matter includes atoms and other particles which have mass. A common way of defining matter is as anything that has mass and occupies volume...

 (called fermions) and of photons and other bosons.

A photon is a single quantum of light, and is referred to as a "light quantum". The energy of an electron
Electron
The electron is a subatomic particle with a negative elementary electric charge. It has no known components or substructure; in other words, it is generally thought to be an elementary particle. An electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton...

 bound to an atom
Atom
The atom is a basic unit of matter that consists of a dense central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The atomic nucleus contains a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons...

 (at rest) is said to be quantized, which results in the stability of atoms, and of matter in general.

As incorporated into the theory of quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

, this is regarded by physicists as part of the fundamental framework for understanding and describing nature at the infinitesimal level.

Normally quanta are considered to be discrete packets with energy stored in them. Max Planck
Max Planck
Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck, ForMemRS, was a German physicist who actualized the quantum physics, initiating a revolution in natural science and philosophy. He is regarded as the founder of the quantum theory, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918.-Life and career:Planck came...

 considered these quanta to be particles that can change their form (meaning that they can be absorbed and released). This phenomenon can be observed in the case of black body radiation, when it is being heated and cooled.

Etymology and discovery


The word "quantum" comes from the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 "quantus," for "how much." "Quanta" meaning short for "quanta of electricity" (or electron) was used in a 1902 article on the photoelectric effect by Philipp Lenard
Philipp Lenard
Philipp Eduard Anton von Lenard , known in Hungarian as Lénárd Fülöp Eduárd Antal, was a Hungarian - German physicist and the winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1905 for his research on cathode rays and the discovery of many of their properties...

, who credited Hermann von Helmholtz
Hermann von Helmholtz
Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz was a German physician and physicist who made significant contributions to several widely varied areas of modern science...

 for using the word in the area of electricity. However, the word quantum in general was well known before 1900. It was often used by physicians, such as the term quantum satis
Quantum satis
Quantum satis is a Latin term meaning the amount which is needed. It has its origins as a quantity specification in medicine and pharmacology , where a similar term quantum sufficit has been used...

. Both Helmholtz and Julius von Mayer were physicians as well as physicists. Helmholtz used quantum with reference to heat in his article on Mayer's work, and indeed, the word quantum can be found in the formulation of the first law of thermodynamics
First law of thermodynamics
The first law of thermodynamics is an expression of the principle of conservation of work.The law states that energy can be transformed, i.e. changed from one form to another, but cannot be created nor destroyed...

 by Mayer in his letter dated July 24, 1841. Max Planck used "quanta" to mean "quanta of matter and electricity", gas, and heat. In 1905, in response to Planck's work and the experimental work of Lenard, who explained his results by using the term "quanta of electricity", Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects in human history...

 suggested that radiation
Radiation
In physics, radiation is a process in which energetic particles or energetic waves travel through a medium or space. There are two distinct types of radiation; ionizing and non-ionizing...

 existed in spatially localized packets which he called "quanta of light" ("Lichtquanta").

The concept of quantization of radiation was discovered in 1900 by Max Planck, who had been trying to understand the emission of radiation
Radiation
In physics, radiation is a process in which energetic particles or energetic waves travel through a medium or space. There are two distinct types of radiation; ionizing and non-ionizing...

 from heated objects, known as black body radiation. By assuming that energy can only be absorbed or released in tiny, differential, discrete packets he called "bundles" or "energy elements,", Planck accounted for the fact that certain objects change colour when heated. On December 14, 1900, Planck reported his revolutionary findings to the German Physical Society and introduced the idea of quantization for the first time as a part of his research on black body radiation. As a result of his experiments, Planck deduced the numerical value of h, known as the Planck constant
Planck constant
The Planck constant , also called Planck's constant, is a physical constant reflecting the sizes of energy quanta in quantum mechanics. It is named after Max Planck, one of the founders of quantum theory, who discovered it in 1899...

, and could also report a more precise value for the Avogadro-Loschmidt number
Avogadro's number
In chemistry and physics, the Avogadro constant is defined as the ratio of the number of constituent particles N in a sample to the amount of substance n through the relationship NA = N/n. Thus, it is the proportionality factor that relates the molar mass of an entity, i.e...

, the number of real molecules in a mole
Mole (unit)
The mole is a unit of measurement used in chemistry to express amounts of a chemical substance, defined as an amount of a substance that contains as many elementary entities as there are atoms in 12 grams of pure carbon-12 , the isotope of carbon with atomic weight 12. This corresponds to a value...

 and the unit of electrical charge, to the German Physical Society. After his theory was validated, Planck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918 for his discovery.

Beyond electromagnetic radiation


While quantization was first discovered in electromagnetic radiation, it describes a fundamental aspect of energy not just restricted to photons.

See also


  • Basic concepts of quantum mechanics
    Basic concepts of quantum mechanics
    Quantum mechanics explains the behaviour of matter and energy on the scale of atoms and subatomic particles.Classical physics explains matter and energy at the macroscopic level of the scale familiar to human experience, including the behavior of astronomical bodies...

  • Elementary particle
    Elementary particle
    In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a particle not known to have substructure; that is, it is not known to be made up of smaller particles. If an elementary particle truly has no substructure, then it is one of the basic building blocks of the universe from which...

  • Introduction to quantum mechanics
    Introduction to quantum mechanics
    Quantum mechanics is the body of scientific principles that explains the behavior of matter and its interactions with energy on the scale of atoms and atomic particles....

  • Magnetic flux quantum
    Magnetic flux quantum
    The magnetic flux quantum Φ0 is the quantum of magnetic flux passing through a superconductor. The phenomenon of flux quantization was discovered B. S. Deaver and W. M. Fairbank and, independently, by R. Doll and M. Nabauer, in 1961...

  • Photon polarization
    Photon polarization
    Photon polarization is the quantum mechanical description of the classical polarized sinusoidal plane electromagnetic wave. Individual photons are completely polarized...

  • Quantization (physics)
    Quantization (physics)
    In physics, quantization is the process of explaining a classical understanding of physical phenomena in terms of a newer understanding known as "quantum mechanics". It is a procedure for constructing a quantum field theory starting from a classical field theory. This is a generalization of the...

  • Quantum cellular automata
    Quantum cellular automata
    Quantum Cellular Automata refers to models of quantum computation, which have been devised in analogy to conventional models of cellular automata introduced by von Neumann...

  • Quantum channel
    Quantum channel
    In quantum information theory, a quantum channel is a communication channel which can transmit quantum information, as well as classical information. An example of quantum information is the state of a qubit...

  • Quantum coherence
  • Quantum chromodynamics
    Quantum chromodynamics
    In theoretical physics, quantum chromodynamics is a theory of the strong interaction , a fundamental force describing the interactions of the quarks and gluons making up hadrons . It is the study of the SU Yang–Mills theory of color-charged fermions...

  • Quantum computer
    Quantum computer
    A quantum computer is a device for computation that makes direct use of quantum mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform operations on data. Quantum computers are different from traditional computers based on transistors...

  • Quantum cryptography
    Quantum cryptography
    Quantum key distribution uses quantum mechanics to guarantee secure communication. It enables two parties to produce a shared random secret key known only to them, which can then be used to encrypt and decrypt messages...

  • Quantum dot
    Quantum dot
    A quantum dot is a portion of matter whose excitons are confined in all three spatial dimensions. Consequently, such materials have electronic properties intermediate between those of bulk semiconductors and those of discrete molecules. They were discovered at the beginning of the 1980s by Alexei...

  • Quantum electronics
  • Quantum entanglement
    Quantum entanglement
    Quantum entanglement occurs when electrons, molecules even as large as "buckyballs", photons, etc., interact physically and then become separated; the type of interaction is such that each resulting member of a pair is properly described by the same quantum mechanical description , which is...

  • Quantum immortality
  • Quantum lithography
    Quantum lithography
    Quantum lithography is a type of photolithography, which exploits non-classical properties of the photons, such as quantum entanglement, in order to achieve superior performance over ordinary classical lithography. Quantum lithography is closely related to the fields of quantum imaging, quantum...

  • Quantum mechanics
    Quantum mechanics
    Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

  • Quantum number
    Quantum number
    Quantum numbers describe values of conserved quantities in the dynamics of the quantum system. Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of quantum mechanics is the quantization of observable quantities. This is distinguished from classical mechanics where the values can range continuously...

  • Quantum sensor
    Quantum sensor
    The word quantum refers to the idea of interactions and discrete energy levels of particles at the subatomic level . Quantum mechanics is a very deep topic, and seeks to describe the state of being of a physical system. The 'quantum world' goes against traditional laws of physics and opens new...

  • Quantum state
  • Subatomic particle
    Subatomic particle
    In physics or chemistry, subatomic particles are the smaller particles composing nucleons and atoms. There are two types of subatomic particles: elementary particles, which are not made of other particles, and composite particles...



Further reading

  • B. Hoffmann, The Strange Story of the Quantum, Pelican 1963.
  • Lucretius, "On the Nature of the Universe", transl. from the Latin by R.E. Latham, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth 1951. There are, of course, many translations, and the translation's title varies. Some put emphasis on how things work, others on what things are found in nature.
  • J. Mehra and H. Rechenberg, The Historical Development of Quantum Theory, Vol.1, Part 1, Springer-Verlag New York Inc., New York 1982.
  • M. Planck, A Survey of Physical Theory, transl. by R. Jones and D.H. Williams, Methuen & Co., Ltd., London 1925 (Dover editions 1960 and 1993) including the Nobel lecture.