Scientists Say: Quantum

This word refers to the smallest of them all


This illustration shows a single hydrogen interacting with a graphene base on a quantum level.  

UCL Mathematical and Physical Sciences/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Quantum (noun, “KWAN-tum”. Plural: quanta)

This word refers to the very tiny behaviors and interactions between subatomic particles — things much smaller than atoms.

In a sentence

Scientists are coming up with new technologies by learning how materials act at the quantum scale.

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Power Words

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physics     The scientific study of the nature and properties of matter and energy. Classical physics is an explanation of the nature and properties of matter and energy that relies on descriptions such as Newton’s laws of motion. It’s an alternative to quantum physics in explaining the motions and behavior of matter. A scientist who works in that field is known as a physicist.

quantum   (pl. quanta) A term that refers to behaviors of and between tiny subatomic particles.

quantum entanglement  A physical phenomenon that occurs when groups of particles (typically pairs) interact in ways such that all the particles have the same quantum state.

quantum physics  A branch of physics that uses quantum theory to explain or predict how a physical system will operate on the scale of atoms or sub-atomic particles.

subatomic  Anything smaller than an atom, which is the smallest bit of matter that has all the properties of whatever chemical element it is (like hydrogen, iron or calcium).

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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