You might be able to experience the quantum world every time you see, touch, and smell.

In our world of infinite possibilities, there are two basic realities: the reality we experience every now and then, of which we perceive the world as it is — where a ball remain stationary until a force is applied to get it in motion. And, the reality of which everything is so very, very small you’ll need to observe them to know if they exist. These are the worlds of classical and quantum physics, respectively. Matter is made up of discrete quantum particles unless you look up closely enough — that is to say, the matter we encounter in our everyday experience comes down to quantum physics than you least expect.

Related media: Quantum Mechanics – Part 1: Crash Course Physics #43


Put Your Lighters Up

Light is what gives us the ability to see, of course; but light is one example of the bizarreness of the quantum world. It exists as both a continuous wave and also as a discrete particle known as a photon. The double-slit experiment is the most popular demonstration of this bizarre phenomenon, wherein single photons passing through a wall with two slits produce patterns on a surface as if they were all waves interacting — unless a photon detector is set to measure which slits each photon passes through, at which point they produce two bright lines as if they were single photons.

In the quantum world, any entity exist as both a particle and a wave, also known as being in a superposition, until they are measured or observed, at which point they collapse in a single state. Your eyes with the aid of your retinas, absorb light that hits it and creates the image you perceive. Can we call them photon detectors? A recent research says no: Studies suggest that humans may be able to detect a single photon at a better rate than chance. This opens up the intriguing possibilities that our eyes could also detect the quantum world.

Scientists have already tested if whether humans can detect quantum entanglement, and there are even plans to verify if they can detect whether a photon is in superposition. Most scientists think that the human eye is too imperfect to detect such quantum phenomena. But as the saying goes, you never really know until you try it.


Catch Me If You Can

You touch almost everything before you can experience it. Your sense of touch, too, might be based in the quantum world. Everything you’ve ever held — even the densest object — is made up of atoms; and you really know what atoms are. Atoms are unimaginably tiny particles of matter with a tiny nucleus inside it, which is surrounded by even tinier electrons. How tiny? Well, very tiny. If you scale up the nucleus of an atom into the size of a marble, the farthest electron orbiting the nucleus would be about a football field away.

You feel a much denser world thanks to quantum physics — that’s known as the Pauli exclusion principle. It states that there’s a limit to how many electrons can hang out in a specific orbit around an atom. For an electron from an atom in your hand to elbow to find its way into an atom in your wall would require more a higher energy or orbital than your hand can bear. Rather, those electrons repel each other, which feels like you’re touching something firm. That feeling is awesome if you happen to be touching a teddy bear.


The Smell Of You 

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The weirdest quantum world experience might be your sense of smell. Sniffing that perfume off your significant other; it’s all possible because airborne molecules of the perfume are drifting through the air into your nostrils, which you inhale through a thin layer of mucus, and into nerve cells called smell receptors that connects directly with your brain’s olfactory neurons, which is always exposed to the outside world.

How those smell receptors translate these airborne molecules into scents is one heck of a guess. The famous theory goes like, airborne molecules and olfactory neurons are into a lock and key: molecules of a certain form fit into receptors of a certain form, and your brain goes, “Oh, I know this one. That’s Chanel.” Really easy, right? But there is a problem with this model, though: Molecules of very different forms can all smell the same, and molecules of similar forms can smell very differently.

There must be some other difference that the smell receptors are picking up on. That difference may lie in quantum physics. Each molecule has a different vibrational frequency, which depends on their molecular mass, molecular bond, and molecular structure. It’s possible for our noses to detect the difference between vibrations of molecules, rather than their forms. A scientist in the 1990s compared the scents of two molecules with different forms but identical molecular frequencies and found that they smelled exactly the same.

If our smell receptors really are detecting vibrations, it’s because of quantum tunneling, a phenomenon that’s made possible by the way particles can be in many states — and many positions — at once. These vibrations may provide that energy needed for orbiting electrons to tunnel from other parts of the smell receptors to another. When a molecule’s vibrational frequency matches the energy of a certain receptor, that makes it more likely that an electron will tunnel.


I See You, I Feel It, And I Smell That

Our sight, touch, and smell aren’t the only senses that interacts with the quantum world. The sound receptors in your inner ear are sensitive to motions of subatomic particles; and your food’s tastes might differ depending on what quantum properties food molecules have. For now, scientists haven’t delved into the fundamental particles at work in your senses of hearing and taste. It might end up that every classical physics phenomenon we experience is really the work of quantum physics.


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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Wed, Jan 09, 2019.

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