Willis Lamb Jr. (1982) - On the Use and Misuse of Quantum Mechanics

Willis Lamb Jr. (1982)

On the Use and Misuse of Quantum Mechanics

Willis Lamb Jr. (1982)

On the Use and Misuse of Quantum Mechanics

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Willis Lamb was one of the many Nobel Laureates who really fell in love with the concept of the Lindau meetings. Beginning his long series of lectures and participations in 1959, he continued participating until the very end (he passed away in 2008). I remember acting as chairman for his lecture in 2001 and it was quite clear that he regarded himself as at home on stage in the lecture hall. His range of topics was wide, from experimental atomic and molecular physics to fundamental questions of the interpretation of quantum mechanics. The text he read for his 1982 lecture was entitled “Quantum Mechanics Interpretation on Micro Level and Application on Macro Level”. This is a topic, which had historic relevance, starting with the discussions of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr at the Solvay conferences around 1930, continuing with Erwin Schrödinger’s cat paradox and continuing further with the renaissance of quantum measurement theory during the 1960’s and 70’s. Actually, it is still a hot topic today, mainly due to the enormous progress in experimental technique. In 1982, the direct detection of gravitational radiation was discussed. According to Einstein’s theory, two heavy stars rotating around each other will give rise to gravitational radiation that will carry away energy from the system and make the rotation slow down. Such an indirect effect was discovered by Russel Hulse and Joseph Taylor in 1974 (Nobel Prize in Physics 1993). In his lecture, Lamb was critical of a theory behind one of the detectors planned to see a direct effect of gravitational waves. Since this effect would be a microscopically small change in length of a macroscopic beam pipe, the plans involved using a technique named quantum nondemolition measurement. Lamb argued that this technique would not work and that the detector would not reach the quantum limit, as proposed. As of today (early 2011), no gravitational waves have been detected.

Anders Bárány

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