Quantum > Subatomic particles properties > Quanta and Quantum waves
A quantum is the minimum amount of a quantity that can be found in nature and it cannot be broken into smaller pieces. Energy for example can be found in nature only in amounts that are integral multiples of a minimum quantum (package) of energy. Quantum wave functions describe the quantum state of a system.
Connection to the Big Idea about energy: In the macroscopic world energy can be transferred in continuous amounts. For example, you can kick a ball providing to it the energy you desire. At the quantum level, when thinking about molecules, atoms or at the subatomic scale, energy can only be transferred at discrete levels. For example, an electron on an atom will only change its energy level if it receives or emits a photon (quanta of energy) of exactly the right energy.
Connection to the Big Idea about the universe: The standard model of particle physics is a quantum theory that describes how elementary particles (quarks and leptons) interact with each other due to 3 fundamental forces (mediated by bosons) to form all matter in the universe.
Connection to the Big Idea about particles: Particles can only carry discrete amounts of energy (quanta). As their position and momentum cannot be estimated simultaneously, these properties are described by waves of probability (quantum waves).
Subjects related: Physics
Age ranges: 15-16,16-17,17-18