Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is one of the most famous mathematical expressions, which could mean that it’s interesting that the man himself expressed it ‘only informally and intuitively’.
The principle is expressed mathematically above.
Looks simple, but like Einstein’s little E equals and so on, it isn’t when you think about the consequences – which has made many a physics student want to run into a wall, just to make the head buzzing stop.
Basically, it means that the more sure you are about where in space a certain particle is, the less sure you can be about how fast it’s going and where it’s headed and the other way around.
Another way of describing that is to say that if you ‘saw’ a car and measured its speed to exactly 65,3 mph and its direction to be due North you wouldn’t know if it was in Reading or Cuba. If you spotted the same car in the exact middle of the only roundabout in Manningtree (smallest town in England) you wouldn’t be able to tell if it was going 2 or 734,5 mph, or if it was also heading for Reading (yay, rhyme!) or was taking the scenic route to the centre of the Earth.
Confusing? It is to me. And it was only made worse by the fact that scientist used to say that they were unsure about the uncertainty principle….
Luckily those days seem to be over now.
“Our work shows that you can’t measure something with an accuracy any better than the fundamental quantum uncertainty,” Paul Busch, a theoretical physicist at the University of York, UK, recently told the magazine Nature.
I’m pretty sure that makes me feel better…