Why Every Dog Should Love Quantum Physics 1: Digital Cameras

I’ve been writing a bunch of publicity copy for the book the last few weeks, and one of those things is a list of reasons why every dog should know about quantum physics. I’ve been planning to chop that up into a bunch of individual blog posts in the run-up to the book, but the Washington Post beat me to (one of) the punch(es):

Getting a digital camera for Christmas? Before you fire it up to capture Uncle Wally’s fateful fifth trip to the punch bowl, take a moment to picture this: You’ve got a genuine scientific marvel in your mitts. In fact, it took nothing less than two Nobel prizes and a revolution in physics in order for you to point and shoot.

Why? Because to take a filmless picture, your camera or camcorder relies on, um, quantum mechanics. In particular, it exploits the fact — revealed by Albert Einstein himself — that a beam of light, which behaves like a wave in some circumstances, acts like a bunch of separate particles in other circumstances. (If that seems infuriatingly contradictory, suck it up. It’s just how we do things in this cosmos. Or go complain to the management.)

The piece goes on to give a pretty good explanation of how the photoelectric effect (which won Einstein a Nobel in 1921) lies at the heart of the operation of a CCD chip (which won Willard Boyle and George Smith a Nobel just this year). Einstein’s explanation of the photoelectric effect is one of the things that kick-started quantum mechanics, so without quantum physics, humans would not be able to quickly and easily take pictures of dogs. And there’s nothing Emmy likes more than having her picture taken:


I take that back. Actually, she loves whatever possibly-edible thing is just out of the frame to the left more than she loves having her picture taken. But she’s cool with the pictures, too.

So there’s one reason every dog should love quantum physics. Stay tuned for more…

One thought on “Why Every Dog Should Love Quantum Physics 1: Digital Cameras

  1. You’re lucky to have a dog that likes having her picture taken. Mine don’t like the flash, so most of my pictures of them are with their faces turned away.

Comments are closed.