Even when our heroes (or our waistbands) are larger than life, we live on a human-scale: the world around us mostly acts according to classical physics. At very long times and huge sizes, the universe acts differently, but we can mostly leave relativity and all that to the astronomers. And at tiny sizes and vanishingly short fractions of a second, quantum effects become important. We can’t leave that to the nanotechnologists, entirely — not if we want to understand the lasers in our DVD players, and why coffee doesn’t stain your new slacks, or why graphene will change electronics, or how photosynthesis works.
Quantum effects are weird. They don’t fit in with our everyday experience because they occur at sub-microscopic sizes that we can’t observe except with fairly sophisticated instruments.
In this week’s issue of Nature, researchers from UC Santa Barbara report a quantum mechanical effect big enough to see with the naked eye. Their paper, “Quantum ground state and single-phonon control of a mechanical resonator” is published online right now. Or for an easier-to-understand explanation, take a look at a pretty good article by Alan Boyle at MSNBC “Tales from the Quantum Frontier”.