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Radioactive material (e.g. Uranium) is placed into sealed box

  1. Mar 14, 2006 #1
    Would i be right in saying that if a radioactive material (e.g. Uranium) is placed into sealed box then it would not radiate? i came to this conclusion through the Heisenburg uncertainty principle. If the particles making up the uranium are not measured then they don't decide on a quantum state and so do not find themselves outside of the nucleus and radiate.
    Sounds a bit strange that keeping a highly dangerous radioactive material in a box makes it safe so i think i've gone wrong somwhere.

    Paul
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 14, 2006 #2

    chroot

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    The sample may or may not radiate. If you treat the sealed sample as a quantum-mechanical entity, the sample exists in a superposition of states until it is actually measured. When it's measured, the universe conspires to decide whether it did or did not radiate.

    At least, that's the Copenhagen interpretation of things, exemplified by the similar thought experiment about Schrondinger's cat.

    - Warren
     
  4. Mar 14, 2006 #3
    That is not correct.
    A radioactive "sample" will radiate regardless of "observation"
    Show me one qualified example that this is not true.
     
  5. Mar 14, 2006 #4

    chroot

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    Well, pallidin, a real sample is, of course, not a quantum-mechanical entity. Even in its sealed container, heat from decays will eventually escape. Air molecules interacting with the sample on the inside of the container interact with the container itself, eliminating superpositions as they go.

    That's why I prefaced my explanation with "if you treat the sample as a quantum-mechanical entity," something that can be done tacitly in a thought experiment, but cannot be done at all in reality.

    Either way, putting the sample inside a box doesn't prevent it from radiating.

    - Warren
     
  6. Mar 14, 2006 #5
    Thanks for clearing that up Warren. I did mean more as a thought experiment than a real world experiment i was just trying to phrase it so you knew what i was trying to ask.

    Thanks,
    Paul
     
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