On Oct. 3, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier for their “experimental methods that generate attosecond pulses of light for the study of electron dynamics in matter.”
The following day, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Moungi Bawendi, Louis Brus and Alexei Ekimov “for the discovery and synthesis of quantum dots.”
All the recipients of the two prizes are devoted to the study of quantum mechanics. German theoretical physicist Max Planck, considered the father of quantum theory, proposed the hypothesis that energy is radiated and absorbed in discrete quanta.
Based on Planck’s hypothesis, the theory of quantum mechanics was developed, laying the foundation for further theoretical development. including German theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics and Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger’s wave mechanics. These theories greatly contributed to the birth of semiconductor technology.
The Schrodinger equation describes the Bohr model of the atom in a more succinct and sophisticated way. Schrodinger proposed that in an equation, the wave functions of an electron are also matter waves, just like particles of light are also matter waves. At the time, everyone was perplexed by one question: Given that the wave functions are in plural form, what exactly would their physical significance be?
German-British physicist Max Born, who was instrumental in the development of quantum mechanics, proposed that the wave functions in the Schrodinger equation would not describe the waves of electrons. Instead, the wave functions would indicate the probability of detecting electrons.
According to Born’s interpretation, the wave functions in themselves represent the probability amplitude for finding a particle at a given point in space at a given time, and their modulus squared gives the probability density of finding the electron. For this, Born received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954.
Many physicists — including Albert Einstein — could not accept Born’s interpretation. They believed that, according to the conventional principles of physics, a set of causes would determine its effects, and Born’s probability interpretation would disrupt the principle of causation.
Despite their disagreement, Einstein and Born were lifelong friends.
British philosopher Bertrand Russell once celebrated these two great physicists: “Both men were brilliant, humble and completely without fear in their public utterances. In an age of mediocrity and moral pygmies, their lives shine with an intense beauty.”
Chinese theoretical physicist Yang Chen-ning (楊振寧), who received the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics, once said that science embodies a beauty that exists in an objective manner, an ultimate beauty present prior to the existence of human beings.
Quoting Chinese historian and poet Wang Guowei (王國維), Yang said that the beauty in science is an “egoless” kind, whereas the beauty in art is “ego-based.” In other words, science embodies an objective beauty, and art, a subjective one.
Likewise, as Einstein said: “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science... It was the experience of mystery — even if mixed with fear — that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: It is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man.”
The great physicists mentioned above devoted themselves to research perhaps out of their own curiosity, but their achievements have brought significant changes to how people live, materially and psychologically. Their knowledge in science is undoubtedly excellent, and their morality and courage deserve our respect.
Young Taiwanese should look up to these masters, undertaking the mission of exploring the mysteries of our universe and nature, rather than opting for popular majors and departments when attending college. After all, leaving something valuable for the world is more important than anything else.
Only a few would be richer than Alfred Nobel, whose creation of dynamite earned him a vast fortune. In his final will and testament, Nobel allocated most of his total assets to establish the five Nobel Prizes. His purpose was to contribute to the world and all human beings. Nobel’s great spirit has carried on to our time, inspiring us to do things for the greater good.
Teng Hon-yuan is a university professor.
Translated by Emma Liu
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