It is sometimes surprising how shallowly you must scratch the Universe to uncover wonder.
Take an ordinary battery. I like the 6 volt batteries with the positive and negative terminals on the top, the kind they sell in sporting goods’ sections for those big flashlights.
Attach one wire with an alligator clip to the positive terminal of the battery, another alligator clip to the negative terminal. Attach the other ends of the wire to a light bulb.
You can buy all these supplies at Radio Shack for maybe $5. And yet, with this simple demonstration, you’ve revealed something amazing.
The light bulb lights up, because electrons from the negative terminal are able to jar electrons in the wire, eventually causing a huge number of electrons to flow through the bulb and cause it to light up. But here’s the catch. Electrons being pushed with 6 volts of electrical pressure shouldn’t be able to jump from the alligator clip to the terminal of the light bulb. Not even close. Yet they do jump. Why?
The reason is that electrons aren’t the tiny particles I always picture them as. At least, not always. In some circumstances, electrons act like waves.
Think of a bunch of electrons getting to the boundary between the alligator clip and the battery terminal. Even though the two surfaces are touching, corrosion and coatings on the surface make for an energy “hill” between the two, a hill that the electron has no chance of getting over.
But the electron isn’t only at the boundary. Because it also has wave properties, the electron is fuzzy, spread out. What, exactly, is spread out? That’s the most amazing thing! The spread out stuff is probability! The electron is probably still in the alligator clip somewhere, but it might just be in the light bulb terminal, on the other side of the hill!
This small probablilty translates to a small percentage of the electrons actually appearing on the other side of the hill, almost as if they are tunneling right through to the other side. Scientists call it quantum tunneling. But the electron hasn’t really tunneled through anything. Actually, it simply appears on the other side of the hill, without ever being in between.
Every electron has this property. And since matter is made of electrons (and protons and neutrons, but they have the same qualities), that means everything, including you, have this property of fuzziness. You are a probability wave.
All that, just from hooking up a light bulb and a battery. Wonder is everywhere!