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Home / Technology / The Curious Observer’s Guide to Quantum Mechanics, Page 7: Quantum Century

The Curious Observer’s Guide to Quantum Mechanics, Page 7: Quantum Century



The Curious Observer's Guide to Quantum Mechanics, Page 7: Quantum Century

Aurich Lawson/Getty Images

One of the quietest revolutions In the current century, quantum mechanics has entered our daily technology. In the past, quantum effects were limited to physical laboratories and delicate experiments. But the basic operations of modern technology increasingly rely on quantum mechanics, and the importance of quantum effects will only grow in the next few decades. Therefore, the physicist Miguel F. Morales took on the arduous task of explaining quantum mechanics to non-professionals in this seven-part series (we do not guarantee that there is no mathematics). The following is the ending of the series, but you can always find the beginning story and landing page of the entire series on the spot.

The future has come-uneven distribution-William Gibson

As a tool manufacturer, we have not been able to use quantum mechanics until recently. Understanding and manipulating quantum devices is like acquiring an intoxicating new superpower-we can now make a lot of things that were impossible a few years ago.

In the previous article, we encountered some of these quantum technologies. Some of them, such as quantum dots in televisions, have become commonplace. Others, such as light clocks, also exist, but they are still very rare.

Because this is the last article in this series, I hope that quantum technology may be injected into our daily lives in the near future. Don’t go far, all the technologies we will explore today already exist. Most of them are still rare, isolated in laboratories or as technology demonstrators. Others hide in invisible places, such as MRI machines in local hospitals or hard drives on desks. In this article, let us focus on some technologies not encountered in the previous article: superconductivity, particle polarization, and quantum electronics.

When we look at these quantum technologies, imagine what it’s like to live in a world of ubiquitous quantum devices. When understanding quantum mechanics is a prerequisite for understanding everyday technology, what does it mean to be technologically literate?

So pick up your binoculars and let us look at the next peak of quantum technology.

superconductor

In a normal wire, you can connect a battery and measure the speed of electrons passing through it (the current or the number and speed of electrons). It takes a certain amount of pressure (voltage) to push electrons through, and doing so will release some heat-think about the red glow of a coil in a room heater or hair dryer.The difficulty in pushing electrons through the material is Revolt.

But we know that electrons move in the form of waves. When you cool down all the atoms in the material, the size of the electron wave that carries the current becomes larger. Once the temperature is low enough, the waviness can change from an annoying subtle change to the defining characteristic of electronics. Suddenly, the electron waves pair and move effortlessly through the material, and the resistance drops to zero.

The temperature at which the electron fluctuates depends on the crystal in which the electron is located, but it is always low temperature, involving the temperature at which a gas like nitrogen or helium turns into a liquid. Despite the challenges of keeping things in a low temperature state, superconductivity is an amazing practical property, and we use it anyway.

Electromagnet. The most widespread use of superconductivity is in electromagnets used in MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machines. As a child, you might have made an electromagnet by winding a wire around a nail and connecting the wire to a battery. The magnet in the MRI machine is similar, just a large coil.But when there is about 1000 amps of current flowing through the wire, keep the magnet working expensive. Usually, it ends up looking like the largest space heater in the world.

Therefore, the answer is to use a special wire and cool it in liquid helium. Once superconducting, you can plug it into a power source and increase the current (this takes 2-3 days, this is a great video of inserting an MRI magnet). Then unplug the magnet, Go away. Because there is no resistance, the current will continue to flow as long as you keep the magnet cold. When a new MRI is installed in the hospital, the magnet will turn on after installation, then unplug it and continue using it.

Superconducting magnets for particle detectors.
enlarge / Superconducting magnets for particle detectors.

Although MRI machines are the most obvious example, superconducting magnets are actually quite common. Any good chemical laboratory or department will be equipped with multiple superconducting magnets in its nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) machine and mass spectrometer. Superconducting magnets travel 18 kilometers from the Large Hadron Collider and appear in the physics department in other ways. When we were working on a small project, we picked up a superconducting magnet from the storage alley behind the laboratory and refurbished it. Superconducting magnet manufacturers mailed a slick catalog to physicists.

Transmission line. The next obvious application is to extend the superconducting wire and use it to supply electricity. There are several demonstration projects using superconducting force lines around the world. As with most industrial applications, it’s just a matter of finding superconductors whose performance is worth their high price. As prices drop, and as we add more renewable solar and wind energy to the grid, long-distance superconducting transmission lines may become critical-being able to transport long-distance power without damage can even offset local differences in renewable energy production.

Generators and electric motors. If you have super-strong superconducting magnets, you need to use them in generators and motors. As always, cooling is an issue, but much stronger magnets will make the motor/generator significantly smaller and more efficient. This is particularly attractive for wind turbines (reducing the weight of the tower) and electric drives for ships and airplanes (reducing weight and increasing efficiency).


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