Astronimate rarely dives into physics, let alone the bazaar world of quantum physics. However, some quantum concepts are certainly worth knowing about, extremely fascinating and simple to grasp! Easily, among the most famous quantum experiments was Schrödinger’s cat. Without further ado, let’s dive into Schrödinger’s cat explained!
WARNING: DON’T ATTEMPT THIS EXPERIMENT!
Schrödinger’s cat experiment is what we call a thought experiment. In other words, we don’t actually conduct the experiment, we use only our imagination and reasoning instead. In fact, as we will later learn, it is truly impossible to physically conduct Schrödinger’s cat experiment, even if we wanted to.
That being said, please under no circumstances attempt to conduct this experiment. This article is purely to educate one on the purpose of the experiment, not to perform it!
Schrödinger’s Cat Explained; who is Schrödinger?
During the 1920s and 1930s, a new scientific revolution was occurring. Now, science realized that an entirely new realm existed on the smallest possible levels, quantum. Perhaps, among the greatest of quantum physics’ forefathers, Austrian physicist, Erwin Schrödinger.
Among Schrödinger’s prolific, Nobel-Prize-winning career was his infamous cat experiment. In fact, this benchmark experiment has been the subject of jokes, shirts, tv show episodes and more! However, the Schrödinger’s cat experiment has been both misinterpreted and misunderstood over time. Hence, this article’s simple approach to help us fully understand where brilliant Erwin was coming from!
Schrödinger’s Cat Explained: the experiment
First, a cat is placed inside a sealed box for one hour. Also, inside the box are a container of radioactive
material, Geiger Counter (simple machine that detects radioactive particles), hammer and container of deadly cyanide.
Using the correct radioactive material allows a precisely 50/50 chance that within one hour, a single radioactive particle will be emitted. If you are uncertain as to why radioactive material will do this…
RADIOACTIVE DECAY REFRESHER:
Radioactive materials contain extra energy and feel unstable! Therefore, to become stable once again, they release, or emitsome of this energy in particles. We call this radioactive decay.
Next, our Geiger Counter will wait for a radioactive particle to be emitted. And, if it records a particle, it will let the hammer drop. As a result, the hammer breaks open the lethal cyanide container, killing the cat.
At last, when you open the box, the cat will either be dead or alive depending on the outcome.
However, prior to opening the box, the cat is both dead and alive. In fact, this is the very purpose of the Schrödinger’s cat experiment. But, how could that possibly be?
Schrödinger’s Cat Explained: the results
Basically, nothing about matter is certain until we observe it. In fact, this thought process is known as the CopenhagenInterpretation of quantum physics. In other words, simply looking at matter actually changes the outcome of what happens to it! Weird, huh?
Indeed, that is why we proclaimed previously in this article that one could not physically conduct this
experiment, even if they so desired! You see, the primary focus of the experiment is that prior to observation the cat is both dead and alive, simultaneously. Therefore, visually observing or monitoring the cat during its hour-in-the-box time would alter, and prevent an outcome. Trippy to think about, isn’t it?
Realistically, yes, matter could be at any place. But, the probability of the matter being at some places is much higher than others. For instance, a carbon atom in your diamond ring could be on the Moon right now. However, it’s much more likely that the carbon atom is on your finger!
Actually, this very style of thinking was the purpose of Schrödinger’s cat! You see, while Schrödinger found such possibilities true for single particles, they would not be possible on larger objects, like cats.
In fact, Schrödinger created his famous cat thought experiment to show how absurd the Copenhagen Interpretation was for larger objects. What a character!
Schrödinger’s Cat Explained: conclusion
Ok, we’ve just explained a lot! But, to sum up, let’s break it down into three easy bullet points:
- After one hour in the experimental box, Schrödinger’s cat stands a 50% chance of being dead, and 50% chance of being alive
- But, while the cat is in the box, it is both dead AND alive simultaneously (Copenhagen Interpretation)
- Schrödinger’s cat experiment was hypothetically used to show Schrödinger’s disagreed with the Copenhagen Interpretation for larger objects, like a cat!