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The Chemical Educator

ISSN: 1430-4171 (electronic version)

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Abstract Volume 13 Issue 6 (2008) pp 329-332

Thunder: An Acoustic Model for the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

Nathan J. Begue and Garth J. Simpson*

Department of Chemistry, Purdue University, 560 Oval Drive, West Lafayette IN 47907,
Received July 8, 2006. Accepted June 2, 2007.

Published online: 1 December 2008

Abstract. Internalization of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle is a key first step in learning and understanding the wave-particle duality of matter, which is at the core of quantum mechanics, but can be difficult to comprehend due to the examples traditionally employed. A new model for introducing the Heisenberg uncertainty principle to upper-level undergraduates is presented. The fundamental physics underlying the uncertainty between momentum and position (or frequency and time) is demonstrated via analogy to familiar acoustical examples, allowing students to hear the effects of the uncertainty principle. Thunder serves as a particularly intuitive example, illustrating both the lower bound of certainty and situations in which the actual uncertainty is greater than the limit dictated by Heisenberg. Additionally, a simple mathematical model is presented to illustrate the trade off between uncertainty in frequency and in time.

Key Words: In the Classroom; physical chemistry; multimedia based learning; quantum chemistry

(*) Corresponding author. (E-mail:

Article in PDF format (151 KB) HTML format

Supporting Materials:

Sample homework questions, demonstration videos and an example Mathcad file are available online. The supplements were prepared using Microsoft Word (2003 SP3) and Mathcad (v13). Movie files are in Windows Media Video format and compatible with standard Windows codecs. These materials are available in a Zip file (1.39 MB).

Issue date: December 1, 2008

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