Explore the Oddities of Quantum Physics with This Interactive Exhibit
When it comes to quantum physics, our intuition is either non-existent or completely misleading- and for a good reason. The very idea of something occupying more than one state simultaneously is a foreign concept that the vast majority of people are unable to quite comprehend, so being able to show what it looks like up close can be an extremely effective learning tool.
Based on a simple idea and a several university grants, Robin Baumgarten was able to create a massive LED wall that he named the "Quantum Jungle" owing to its forest of springs and lights that people can interact with.
The wall consists of a large matrix of metal springs that serve two purposes. First, they are fun to mess with, especially for younger kids, and second, they can conduct current. Based on this fact, each spring was attached to a channel on the cheap and ubiquitous MPR121 capacitive touch sensor.
Because only four different I2C addresses are possible, every group of 48 (12 springs x 4 MPR121 modules) springs was connected to a single ESP8266 that sent the data over the ESP-Now protocol to a central ESP8266. From there, it forwarded the information it received onto a Teensy 4.1 and eventually to a powerful laptop.
Being able to simulate quantum behavior, especially at this scale, on a classical computer would have been far too much for a microcontroller to handle, which meant this task had to be offloaded to a more powerful laptop instead.
Now armed with plenty of resources, the laptop takes in the touch data in the form of a 2D grid of nodes (where each node is a single spring) from the attached Teensy 4.1 and runs it through a Schrödinger's Equation algorithm.
Results from this algorithm are then forwarded from the numpy Python script mentioned above to a C# program via a websocket, where each point must then be converted again from raw values into the enamoring visual effects and colors seen by the users.
As the final step, color information is sent from the laptop to a set of three Teensy 4.1 boards which use the TriantaduoWS2811 library to control all of the LEDs in parallel without using many CPU cycles, thus creating a smooth animation running at 85+ frames per second.
As seen in Baumgarten's Reddit post, his Quantum Jungle exhibit is a very cool way to visualize how quantum particles behave while also being fun to physically interact with. For more details, you can read his comment on that very same post here.