Tunneling is a quantum mechanical phenomenon when a particle is able to penetrate through a potential energy barrier that is higher in energy than the particle’s kinetic energy. This amazing property of microscopic particles play important roles in explaining several physical phenomena including radioactive decay. Additionally, the principle of tunneling leads to the development of Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) which had a profound impact on chemical, biological and material science research.

Violating Classical Mechanics

Consider a ball rolling from one valley to another over a hill (Figure 1

). If the ball has enough energy ( E

) to overcome the potential energy ( V

) at the top of the barrier between each valley, then it can roll from one valley to the other. This is the classical picture and is controlled by the simple Law of Conservation of Energy approach taught in beginning physics courses. However, If the ball does not have enough kinetic energy ( E<V

), to overcome the barrier it will never roll from one valley to the other. In contrast, when quantum effects are taken into effect, the ball can "tunnel" through the barrier to the other valley, even if its kinetic energy is less than the potential energy of the barrier to the top of one of the hills.

The reason for the difference between classical and quantum motion comes from wave-particle nature of matter. One interpretation of this duality involves the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which defines a limit on how precisely the position and the momentum of a particle can be known at the same time. This implies that there are no solutions with a probability of exactly zero (or one), though a solution may approach infinity if, for example, the calculation for its position was taken as a probability of 1, the other, i.e. its speed, would have to be infinity. Hence, the probability of a given particle's existence on the opposite side of an intervening barrier is non-zero, and such particles will appear on the 'other' (a semantically difficult word in this instance) side with a relative frequency proportional to this probability.

Microscopic particles such as protons, or electrons would behave differently as a consequence of wave-particle duality. Consider a particle with energy E

that is confined in a box which has a barrier of height V

. Classically, the box will prevent these particles from escaping due to the insufficiency in kinetic energy of these particles to get over the barrier. However, if the thickness of the barrier is thin, the particles have some probability of penetrating through the barrier without sufficient energy and appear on the other side of the box (Figure 2

).

Tunneling is a quantum mechanical phenomenon when a particle is able to penetrate through a potential energy barrier that is higher in energy than the particle’s kinetic energy. This amazing property of microscopic particles play important roles in explaining several physical phenomena including radioactive decay. Additionally, the principle of tunneling leads to the development of Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) which had a profound impact on chemical, biological and material science research.

Violating Classical Mechanics

Consider a ball rolling from one valley to another over a hill (Figure 1

). If the ball has enough energy ( E

) to overcome the potential energy ( V

) at the top of the barrier between each valley, then it can roll from one valley to the other. This is the classical picture and is controlled by the simple Law of Conservation of Energy approach taught in beginning physics courses. However, If the ball does not have enough kinetic energy ( E<V

), to overcome the barrier it will never roll from one valley to the other. In contrast, when quantum effects are taken into effect, the ball can "tunnel" through the barrier to the other valley, even if its kinetic energy is less than the potential energy of the barrier to the top of one of the hills.

The reason for the difference between classical and quantum motion comes from wave-particle nature of matter. One interpretation of this duality involves the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which defines a limit on how precisely the position and the momentum of a particle can be known at the same time. This implies that there are no solutions with a probability of exactly zero (or one), though a solution may approach infinity if, for example, the calculation for its position was taken as a probability of 1, the other, i.e. its speed, would have to be infinity. Hence, the probability of a given particle's existence on the opposite side of an intervening barrier is non-zero, and such particles will appear on the 'other' (a semantically difficult word in this instance) side with a relative frequency proportional to this probability.

Microscopic particles such as protons, or electrons would behave differently as a consequence of wave-particle duality. Consider a particle with energy E

that is confined in a box which has a barrier of height V

. Classically, the box will prevent these particles from escaping due to the insufficiency in kinetic energy of these particles to get over the barrier. However, if the thickness of the barrier is thin, the particles have some probability of penetrating through the barrier without sufficient energy and appear on the other side of the box (Figure 2

).

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