Niels Bohr’s prediction of the relationship of quantum and classical physics was correct; Research

Researchers have shown that Newton’s classical laws of motion can also be applied in the tiny world of atoms, by developing an accurate model of the part of solar system in the single atom of potassium.

This research has been done by the researchers from Rice University’s researchers’ team and collaborators at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Vienna University of Technology and published online in the journal of Physical Review Letters.

This research support the prediction made by Niels Bohr, Danish Physicist, in 1920. He predicted the relationship between the quantum mechanics and Newton’s laws of motion.

“Bohr predicted that quantum mechanical descriptions of the physical world would, for systems of sufficient size, match the classical descriptions provided by Newtonian mechanics,” said lead researcher Barry Dunning, Rice’s Sam and Helen Worden Professor of Physics and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “Bohr also described the conditions under which this correspondence could be observed. In particular, he said it should be seen in atoms with very high principal quantum numbers, which are exactly what we study in our laboratory.”

In this study, researchers have caused an electron in an atom to revolve around the nucleus in similar manner to that of Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids’ revolution around the sun. They studied the potassium atoms with quantum numbers between 300 and 600 while creating Rydberg atom with the help of ultraviolet laser.

“In such excited states, the potassium atoms become hundreds of thousands of times larger than normal and approach the size of a period at the end of a sentence,” Dunning said. “Thus, they are good candidates to test Bohr’s prediction.”

“We wanted to see if we could develop a way to use radio frequency waves to capture this localized electron and make it orbit the nucleus indefinitely without spreading out,” Shuzhen Ye, Rice graduate student, said.

Shuzhen Ye, Rice University Graduate working on the experiment
Shuzhen Ye, Rice University Graduate working on the experiment

Researchers were successful in rotating the electron forcefully around the nucleus by using radiofrequency field. Researchers used the further electric field pulse to determine the final results by taking a snapshot of the wave packet and degrading the Rydberg atom in the process. The experiment was run tens of thousands of times and all the snapshots were combined and showed that Bohr’s prediction was correct.


B. Wyker, S. Ye, F. B. Dunning, S. Yoshida, C. O. Reinhold, and J. Burgdörfer, (2012). Creating and Transporting Trojan Wave Packets. Physical Review Letters, DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.108.043001

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