Homeschooling Quantum Tunneling

After giving my future 6th grader high-level overviews of quantum superposition and quantum entanglement, the logical next lesson was quantum tunneling. That’s because two younger siblings enjoy rolling up a thin mattress and using it as a tunnel from a higher elevation to a lower elevation.

Imagine a room with an ordinary bed and a mattress on the floor. A wall of pillows is stacked on the edge of the bed facing the mattress.

This represents the standard explanation of quantum tunneling using a local minimum and a global minimum. Using the younger siblings tunneling from the bed down to the mattress as a visual, electrons can tunnel through barriers from local minima to global minima.

I spoke briefly about its application to optimization problems, without mentioning quantum annealing; I’m trying to keep these lessons short and high-level. Due to a recent lesson about electromagnetism, I focused more on how quantum tunneling makes nuclear fusion possible. If positively-charged hydrogen nucleii repel each other, how do they fuse together in the Sun? Because tunneling overcomes that "barrier."

Interestingly, my student made a joke at one point about the hydrogen nucleii teleporting. I replied that quantum teleportation is a very real thing, albeit not in the manner of nucleii teleporting. So, that will probably be the next lesson, with the younger siblings playing the roles of Alice and Bob.

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