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Quantum Physics For Dummies, Revised Edition by Steven Holzner

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Chapter 12

Wham-Blam! Scattering Theory

In This Chapter

  • Switching between lab and center-of-mass frames
  • Solving the Schrödinger equation
  • Finding the wave function
  • Putting the Born approximation to work

Your National Science Foundation grant finally came through, and you built your new synchrotron — a particle accelerator. Electrons and anti-electrons accelerate at near the speed of light along a giant circular track enclosed in a vacuum chamber and collide, letting you probe the structure of the high-energy particles you create. You're sitting at the console of your giant new experiment, watching the lights flashing and the signals on the screens approvingly. Millions of watts of power course through the thick cables, and the radiation monitors are beeping, indicating that things are working. Cool.

You're accelerating particles and smashing them against each other to observe how they scatter. But this is slightly more complex than observing how pool balls collide. Classically, you can predict the exact angle at which colliding objects will bounce off each other if the collision is elastic (that is, momentum and kinetic energy are both conserved). Quantum mechanically, however, you can only assign probabilities to the angles at which things scatter.

Physicists use large particle accelerators to discover more about the structure of matter, and that study is central to modern physics. This chapter serves as an introduction to that field of study. You get to take a look at particle ...

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