2017 World Championship 24-Hour Run, Belfast, UK

Running and Quantum Mechanics

In my day job, I'm a physicist. So I thought it would fun to draw an analogy between running and quantum mechanics. Even if you haven't officially studied physics in school (or if you did study it, but hated it), your real-life experience makes you an excellent experimental physicist. So bear with me, as I try to explain quantum mechanics in terms of running.

Mechanics is the study of how macroscopic (big, tangible) objects behave as they move, or as forces are applied to them. From your own life as an experimental physicist, you have a pretty good intuition for "classical mechanics" – i.e. the trajectory of a baseball when you throw it, or the effect on a car when it smashes into a wall. You know that throwing the ball harder gives it more "momentum" ($p$), which makes it harder to hit or catch (i.e. harder to change the direction of motion). You know that driving the car faster gives it more "energy" ($E$), which makes it crumple more when it hits the wall (i.e. the extra energy can deform the metal more). Quantum mechanics describes the motion of microscopic objects, like the atoms and electrons that are the basic quantized building blocks of the world around us. The catch is that when particles are really tiny, they act like waves as well as particles, which is outside the realm of our daily experience. But I'll give a simple running example to show how this works.