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When is a Wave not a Wave?

When it’s a perpetuated misunderstanding.

I’ve recently read (and watched on YouTube) Richard Feynman’s lectures on Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), the theory that accurately describes the physics of electrons, light and the interactions between them (including the effects of special relativity). It represents one of the most accurate physical theories we have to date, having been tested to incredibly high precision against the results of experiment. Though the lectures were given in 1979 they shed light on an issue that has been presented as a problem throughout all of my scientific education: the issue of wave particle duality.

The gist of the problem behind the wave particle duality is that electrons and photons can behave as particles or waves depending on how an experiment is performed. When they hit a detector they appear as single point particles; however when they come through the apparatus they can show wave-like behaviour such as interference, reflection, diffraction etc. that is apparently impossible to explain with particles. This causes an issue with the idea of what a photon (or electron for that matter) actually is at the fundamental level. It is only after listening to, and reading, Feynman’s lectures that I find that there is no problem of a wave particle duality, electrons and photons are definitely particles and in no way waves, and it is only through misrepresentation that this “problem” exists. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2013 in Blog

 

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