**Table of Contents**

*.......The Elegant Universe*

**THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE,****Brian Greene,**1999, 2003

```(annotated and with added

**bold highlights by Epsilon=One**)

**Chapter 4 - Microscopic Weirdness**

It's Too Hot in the Kitchen

The road to quantum mechanics began with a puzzling problem. Imagine that your oven at home is perfectly insulated, that you set it to some temperature, say 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and you give it enough time to heat up. Even if you had sucked all the air from the oven before turning it on, by heating its walls you generate waves of radiation in its interior. This is the same kind of radiation—heat and light in the form of electromagnetic waves—that is emitted by the surface of the sun, or a glowing-hot iron poker.

Here's the problem. Electromagnetic waves carry energy—life on earth, for example, relies crucially on solar energy transmitted from the sun to the earth by electromagnetic waves. At the beginning of the twentieth century, physicists calculated the total energy carried by all of the electromagnetic radiation inside an oven at a chosen temperature. Using well-established calculational procedures they came up with a ridiculous answer: For any chosen temperature, the total energy in the oven is

It was clear to everyone that this was nonsense—a hot oven can embody significant energy but surely not an infinite amount. To understand the resolution proposed by Planck it is worth understanding the problem in a bit more detail. It turns out that when Maxwell's electromagnetic theory is applied to the radiation in an oven it shows that the waves generated by the hot walls must have a

In case you find electromagnetic waves a bit abstract, another good analogy to keep in mind are the waves that are produced by plucking a violin string. Different wave frequencies correspond to different musical notes: the higher the frequency, the higher the note. The amplitude of a wave on a violin string is determined by how hard you pluck it. A harder pluck means that you put more energy into the wave disturbance; more energy therefore corresponds to a larger amplitude. You can hear this, as the resulting tone is louder. Similarly, less energy corresponds to a smaller amplitude and a lower volume of sound.

By making use of nineteenth-century thermodynamics, physicists were able to determine how much energy the hot walls of the oven would pump into electromagnetic waves of each allowed wavelength—how hard the walls would, in effect, "pluck" each wave. The result they found is simple to state: Each of the allowed waves—[I]regardless of its wavelength[/]—carries the same amount of energy (with the precise amount determined by the temperature of the oven). In other words, all of the possible wave patterns within the oven are on completely equal footing when it comes to the amount of energy they embody.

At first this seems like an interesting, albeit innocuous, result. It isn't. It spells the downfall of what has come to be known as classical physics. The reason is this: Even though requiring that all waves have a whole number of peaks and troughs rules out an enormous variety of conceivable wave patterns in the oven, there are still an infinite number that are possible—those with ever more peaks and troughs. Since each wave pattern carries the same amount of energy, an infinite number of them translates into an infinite amount of energy. At the turn of the century, there was a gargantuan fly in the theoretical ointment.

Here's the problem. Electromagnetic waves carry energy—life on earth, for example, relies crucially on solar energy transmitted from the sun to the earth by electromagnetic waves. At the beginning of the twentieth century, physicists calculated the total energy carried by all of the electromagnetic radiation inside an oven at a chosen temperature. Using well-established calculational procedures they came up with a ridiculous answer: For any chosen temperature, the total energy in the oven is

*infinite.*It was clear to everyone that this was nonsense—a hot oven can embody significant energy but surely not an infinite amount. To understand the resolution proposed by Planck it is worth understanding the problem in a bit more detail. It turns out that when Maxwell's electromagnetic theory is applied to the radiation in an oven it shows that the waves generated by the hot walls must have a

**that fit perfectly between opposite surfaces. Some examples are shown in Figure 4.1. Physicists use three terms to describe these waves: wavelength, frequency, and amplitude. The***whole*number of peaks and troughs*wavelength*is the distance between successive peaks or successive troughs of the waves, as illustrated in Figure 4.2. More peaks and troughs mean a shorter wavelength, as they must all be crammed in between the fixed walls of the oven. The*frequency*refers to the number of up-and-down cycles of oscillation that a wave completes every second. It turns out that the frequency is determined by the wavelength and vice versa: longer wavelengths imply lower frequency; shorter wavelengths imply higher frequency. To see why, think of what happens when you produce waves by shaking a long rope that is tied down at one end. To generate a long wavelength, you leisurely shake your end up and down. The frequency of the waves matches the number of cycles per second your arm goes through and is consequently fairly low. But to generate short wavelengths you shake your end more frantically—more frequently, so to speak—and this yields a higher-frequency wave. Finally, physicists use the term*amplitude*to describe the maximum height or depth of a wave, as also illustrated in Figure 4.2.**Figure 4.1**Maxwell's theory tells us that the

**radiation waves**in an oven

**have a whole number**of crests and troughs—they fill out complete wave-cycles.

**Figure 4.2**The wavelength is the distance between successive peaks or troughs of a wave. The amplitude is the maximal height or depth of the wave.

By making use of nineteenth-century thermodynamics, physicists were able to determine how much energy the hot walls of the oven would pump into electromagnetic waves of each allowed wavelength—how hard the walls would, in effect, "pluck" each wave. The result they found is simple to state: Each of the allowed waves—[I]regardless of its wavelength[/]—carries the same amount of energy (with the precise amount determined by the temperature of the oven). In other words, all of the possible wave patterns within the oven are on completely equal footing when it comes to the amount of energy they embody.

At first this seems like an interesting, albeit innocuous, result. It isn't. It spells the downfall of what has come to be known as classical physics. The reason is this: Even though requiring that all waves have a whole number of peaks and troughs rules out an enormous variety of conceivable wave patterns in the oven, there are still an infinite number that are possible—those with ever more peaks and troughs. Since each wave pattern carries the same amount of energy, an infinite number of them translates into an infinite amount of energy. At the turn of the century, there was a gargantuan fly in the theoretical ointment.