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Problem understanding particle/wave duality and quantum jump

  1. Feb 4, 2007 #1
    Hey, I know this is probably a basic question but I've always been more into biology and only got into physics in the past 2 or 3 months.

    I'm having touble understanding the relationship between particle/wave duality of an electron and its jump from one state to another.

    how does this prevent the electron form having intermediate states of excitement? from what I read, it seems like this particle/wave duality has something to do with it, but i don't quite understand how. :confused:

    edit: ok, i think i kinda get it but I still want to make sure: the picture i get in my head is of a string connected at both ends (i get this from some of the graphical representations I've seen around). this string has a bunch of waves going through it, and the size of the waves has to be consistent throughout the string, while still remaining connected at both ends.
    so, since the waves cannot be divided into anything but wholes without disconnecting at both ends, then it has to "jump" from one frequency to the other.

    would this be an accurate way to see it?

    (please try not to use complicated mathematical formulas; it appears the math part of my brain was lobotomized when I was a zygote)

    Last edited: Feb 5, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 5, 2007 #2


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    Staff Emeritus
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    Don't worry, nobody has ever figured out what you are asking about. The problem is standing, and is called the "measurement problem" in quantum theory. It's with us since about 80 years now.

    There are different attempts at resolutions of the issue, but all of them have something weird or illogical or both to them.

    If you want to get serious physicists to fight over an issue, just bring this up !

    Tell yourself one thing: what is taught in books is only a computational technique (most people agree upon that). It doesn't need to be a correct representation of what "is really happening". And then there are people (and maybe they are right), who say that all we care about, is a good computational technique. They "shut up and calculate".
  4. Feb 5, 2007 #3


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    The analogy with a vibrating string or other vibrating object (which you tried to describe) is about the best you can do, I think. A string with a given length and tension can vibrate only at certain frequencies: fundamental, first overtone, second overtone, etc. Same for any other vibrating object. That's how musical instruments work.

    Mathematically, finding the allowed energies for a hydrogen atom or any other bound system is very similar to finding the allowed frequencies for a vibrating object. But that doesn't mean that the electron "really is" a vibrating object. As vanesch notes, nobody knows what is "really happening" here. You'll find that the longest discussions here are between people who have different ideas of what is "really happening," although they agree on how to calculate things like energy levels, that we can measure experimentally.
  5. Feb 5, 2007 #4
    well, better to be confused together than to be confused alone i guess lol. thank for the help!
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