Quantum physics in Wanstead

Wansteadium reader Thomas Downey writes:

Last night as part of the Redbridge Book and Media Festival, Wanstead library provided the venue for an interesting discussion entitled Quantum Theory Cannot Help You.

The event was organised by the Newham bookshop and the invited speakers were Marcus Chown and ManJit Kumar. Both are well known authors who have written books on the topic. The event was well attended with additional seating required just before the off to cater for latecomers.

The first order of business was for hosts from Newham Books to apologise for the typo in the title, it was supposed to be a play on the title of one of Marcus Chowns books “Quantum Theory Cannot hurt you: A guide to the universe” this was a nice way of opening a potentially tricky evening.

Marcus gave an interesting overview of Quantum theory; it covers the micro world of atoms and electrons. Primarily it tries to explain theory of particles and waves. As someone who has an interest in the discipline but not the requisite undergraduate degree, he lost me when discussing the concept of the Superposition. Marcus was a good speaker and tried to explain his complex topic in an interesting and informative way.

Manjit Kumar was the second speaker and has written a well received book called “Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality” – this is the history of the people who created modern physics. Manjit was an engaging speaker and told the story of the key players well. It was very interesting how the giants of the field could accept the mathematics of a theory but not like its outcome and believe there other possible alternatives. This lack of belief lead to tensions and fall outs between the main protagonists in the field.

Some of the takeaways from the evening for the audience was how much we don’t know about the universe; apparently its estimated that we only understand 4% of our universe and that the world is really full of big empty spaces.

This was illustrated by the quote that if you squeezed all the empty space out all the people bodies on planet earth, we would all fit in a single sugar cube, mind you a very heavy one.

The Q&A session at the end was lively and I hope that the authors sold many books which was the purpose of a very entertaining but in the end for me a confusing evening.