15 May 2006

How big is a quantum?

Defending the meaning of "quantum leap" is now a lost cause. But that's no reason not to point the finger at the twits who make the mistake of thinking that a quantum leap is something big. It isn't.

Quantum mechanics deals with stuff around the size of atoms. And you probably don't need me to tell you that atoms are small. This does not stop the EU's energy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, from talking about "a quantum leap in the production of renewable and low carbon energy".

Quantum leaps are discrete leaps. Discrete and tiny. That means they are like rungs on a ladder. You stand on one run or the next one up. You can't hover in the middle.

The commissioner probably meant an order of magnitude leap. But given the status of many renewable energy technologies, maybe he was right after all. Adding another solar powered battery to the world's energy output would bring about a tiny and imperceptible increase in energy production. A bit like an electron jumping from one quantum state to another.

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