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Chaos on the Quantum Scale

Simulations of atomic-scale billiards reveal chaotic phenomena that expand theory and applications, especially in nanotechnology

Mason A. Porter, Richard Liboff

Quantum mechanics—the mathematical description of nature at the subatomic level—launched a revolution in physics during the 1920s, introducing a realm where uncertainty was the rule. Certainly not chaos, which had not yet been developed as a concept in physics. But new evidence from both theory and practice reveals chaotic phenomena at the quantum level. The so-called field of quantum chaos, however, remains young and still offers more questions than answers. Mathematical experiments on simulated electrons bouncing on billiard-like tables reveal that various conditions can create chaos, or wildly divergent results with tiny changes in initial conditions. “Semi-quantum chaos” can be demonstrated in specialized microelectronics devices. This evidence suggests that chaos might exist in the vibrations of molecules and various other atomic and molecular scenarios. The mathematical theory behind this work could also be applied to the design of quantum dots and other nanostructures.


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