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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Quantum Tunneling, Friends Running Into Walls, and The Flash

Dear Readers,
School is over, and my most stressful term of the year is finally done, so I can go back to blogging.  Today our story starts off after my Science Olympiad enrichment.  I was preparing for a forensics event with my friend Cole, who is always looking for the "cool" side of science.  Soon enough, he would learn a REALLY cool bit about quantum mechanics.  It is called quantum tunneling, and both superheroes and microscopes use it.  Basically, when a fat guy like the one above runs into a wall, he isn't going very fast, and his electrons are not in an energetic state.  Quantum tunneling says that the Batman shopper guy has a small probability of tunneling through the wall by borrowing energy from around him and transporting to the other side of the wall because of the quantum probability that he could be on the other side.  He has a more likely chance of getting through if a) the wall was thinner and b) he was faster.  If Usain Bolt did it, he would have a slightly higher percentage of making to the other side, but still only about a trillionth of a percent of the speed of light.  When Flash does it however, he raises himself to 99.99% the speed of light, and now he's practically certain to go through the wall.  If I walked into a wall 10 times every second, it would take me the whole life of the universe to have a fantastic chance of going through the wall.   So I tell Cole about quantum tunneling. This is where I start watching my friend walk into a foam pad for 3 straight minutes.  Mr. Blakney says "Cole, why are you walking into a wall?"  Cole then mutters "Quantum tunneling."  Mr. Blakney gives me a strange look, hearing the word 'quantum' mentioned.  He knows I am partially causing Cole to walk into a wall.  I explain to Mr. Blakney what quantum tunneling is.  He approves.  I then end up explaining it to Mr. Sullivan.  Then I hear Cole declare with glee "Only 13.7 billion more years!".  Sounds practical, huh?  Not really.  But quantum tunneling does have many practical applications, one of which I will explain.  The STM, or scanning tunneling microscope, uses quantum tunneling to make a detailed drawing of a surface.  Its tip touches the very surface of the material, usually metal.  But it only touches the electron clouds of the top layer of atoms, so not the actual surface.  It sends an electrical current through the tip and "feels" the electrons by detecting changes in the current.  It then maps out each individual atom on a computer to compile a close-up image. I hope this was fun and please, the life of the universe is kind of a long time, so don't think you can tunnel through your little brother whenever you want (I wish that were true!).

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