Volume 6, Issue 3, pages 48-87
John P. Ralston [Show Biography]
John P. Ralston is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Kansas. He was educated at Harvey Mudd College, the University of Nevada, and the University of Oregon. He held postdoctoral positions at McGill University and Argonne National Laboratory. At various times he worked as a material expediter, warehouseman, union electrician, design engineer, apartment emergency manager, and locksmith. Originally trained as a high energy theorist, Ralston has worked in many areas of physics, including particle astrophysics, cosmic rays, cosmology, nuclear and particle physics, and pharmaceutical chemistry. He has held visiting appointments at Fermilab, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory, CERN, E’cole Polytechnique, CEA-Saclay, and ICTP. Without planning it, Ralston contributed to intellectual property that actually made money for his university. His invention of mathematical methods to discover vaccines has saved tens of thousand of lives, mostly laboratory mice. He has predicted new phenomena that were actually observed, created new experimental technologies that were actually built, conducted an experiment that actually got a signal, and written a book on quantum mechanics that was actually published. “How to Understand Quantum Mechanics” (IOP and Morgan-Claypool 2018) presents a new logical ordering of topics which are self-explanatory and stand on their own without redundant postulates. If there is a philosophy behind this, it is the philosophy of learning what actually happened in physics history, and generally avoiding it.
Planck’s constant was introduced as a fundamental unit in the early history of quantum mechanics. We find a modern approach where Planck’s constant is absent: it is unobservable except as a constant of human convention. Despite long reference to experiment, review shows that Planck’s constant cannot be obtained from the data of Ryberg, Davisson and Germer, Compton, or that used by Planck himself. In the new approach Planck’s constant is tied to macroscopic conventions of Newtonian origin, which are dispensable. The precision of other fundamental constants is substantially improved by eliminating Planck’s constant. The electron mass is determined about 67 times more precisely, and the unit of electric charge determined 139 times more precisely. Improvement in the experimental value of the fine structure constant allows new types of experiment to be compared towards finding “new physics.” The long-standing goal of eliminating reliance on the artifact known as the International Prototype Kilogram can be accomplished to assist progress in fundamental physics.