Definition of Plank's Constant

Just as you can't have one-third of a penny or two and a half quarters, Planck declared that when it comes to energy, no fractions are allowed. Now, our monetary denominations are determined by the United States Treasury. Seeking a more fundamental explanation, Planck suggested that the energy denomination of a wave—the minimal lump of energy that it can have—is determined by its frequency. Specifically, he posited that the minimum energy a wave can have is proportional to its frequency: larger frequency (shorter wavelength) implies larger minimum energy; smaller frequency (longer wavelength) implies smaller minimum energy. Roughly speaking, just as gentle ocean waves are long and luxurious while harsh ones are short and choppy, long-wavelength radiation is intrinsically less energetic than short-wavelength radiation.

Here's the punch line: Planck's calculations showed that this lumpiness of the allowed energy in each wave cured the previous ridiculous result of infinite total energy. It's not hard to see why. When an oven is heated to some chosen temperature, the calculations based on nineteenth-century thermodynamics predicted the common energy that each and every wave would supposedly contribute to the total. But like those comrades who cannot contribute the common amount of money they each owe the landlord because the monetary denomination they carry is too large, if the minimum energy a particular wave can carry exceeds the energy it is supposed to contribute, it can't contribute and instead lies dormant. Since, according to Planck, the minimum energy a wave can carry is proportional to its frequency, as we examine waves in the oven of ever larger frequency (shorter wavelength), sooner or later the minimum energy they can carry is bigger than the expected energy contribution. Like the comrades in the warehouse entrusted with denominations larger than fifty-dollar bills, these waves with ever-larger frequencies cannot contribute the amount of energy demanded by nineteenth-century physics. And so, just as only a finite number of comrades are able to contribute to the total heat payment—leading to a finite amount of total money—only a finite number of waves are able to contribute to the oven's total energy—again leading to a finite amount of total energy. Be it energy or money the lumpiness of the fundamental units—and the ever increasing size of these lumps as we go to higher frequencies or to larger monetary denominations—changes an infinite answer to one that is finite.

...Planck found that by adjusting one parameter that entered into his new calculations, he could predict accurately the measured energy of an oven for any selected temperature. This one parameter is the proportionality factor between the frequency of a wave and the minimal lump of energy it can have. Planck found that this proportionality factor— now known as Planck's constant and denoted ħ (pronounced "h-bar")—is about a billionth of a billionth of a billionth in everyday units.26 The tiny value of Planck's constant means that the size of the energy lumps are typically very small. This is why, for example, it seems to us that we can cause the energy of a wave on a violin string—and hence the volume of sound it produces—to change continuously. In reality, though, the energy of the wave passes through discrete steps, à la Planck, but the size of the steps is so small that the discrete jumps from one volume to another appear to be smooth. According to Planck's assertion, the size of these jumps in energy grows as the frequency of the waves gets higher and higher (while wavelengths get shorter and shorter). This is the crucial ingredient that resolves the infinite-energy paradox.


How it evens out the energy of elementary particles.

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 The Elegant Universe
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Greene , Brian (2011-05-31), The Elegant Universe, Vintage Digital, Retrieved on 2012-03-29
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