Quantum mechanics (QM; also known as quantum physics, quantum theory, the wave mechanical model, or matrix mechanics), including quantum field theory, is a fundamental theory in physics which describes nature at the smallest scales of energy levels of atoms and subatomic particles.
Classical physics (the physics existing before quantum mechanics) is a set of fundamental theories which describes nature at ordinary (macroscopic) scale. Most theories in classical physics can be derived from quantum mechanics as an approximation valid at large (macroscopic) scale. Quantum mechanics differs from classical physics in that: energy, momentum, angular momentum, and other quantities of a system are restricted to discrete values (quantization), objects have characteristics of both particles and waves while being neither one of those (wave-particle duality), and there are limits to the precision with which quantities can exist in nature (uncertainty principle).[note 1]
Quantum mechanics gradually arose from theories to explain observations which could not be reconciled with classical physics, such as Max Planck's solution in 1900 to the black-body radiation problem, and from the correspondence between energy and frequency in Albert Einstein's 1905 paper which explained the photoelectric effect. Early quantum theory was profoundly re-conceived in the mid-1920s by Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Max Born and others. The modern theory is formulated in various specially developed mathematical formalisms. In one of them, a mathematical function, the wave function, provides information about the probability amplitude of position, momentum, and other physical properties of a particle.
Important applications of quantum theory include quantum chemistry, quantum optics, quantum computing, superconducting magnets, light-emitting diodes, and the laser, the transistor and semiconductors such as the microprocessor, medical and research imaging such as magnetic resonance imaging and electron microscopy. Explanations for many biological and physical phenomena are rooted in the nature of the chemical bond, most notably the macro-molecule DNA.
Scientific inquiry into the wave nature of light began in the 17th and 18th centuries, when scientists such as Robert Hooke, Christiaan Huygens and Leonhard Euler proposed a wave theory of light based on experimental observations. In 1803, Thomas Young, an English polymath, performed the famous double-slit experiment that he later described in a paper titled On the nature of light and colours. This experiment played a major role in the general acceptance of the wave theory of light.
In 1838, Michael Faraday discovered cathode rays. These studies were followed by the 1859 statement of the black-body radiation problem by Gustav Kirchhoff, the 1877 suggestion by Ludwig Boltzmann that the energy states of a physical system can be discrete, and the 1900 quantum hypothesis of Max Planck. Planck's hypothesis that energy is radiated and absorbed in discrete "quanta" (or energy packets) precisely matched the observed patterns of black-body radiation.
In 1896, Wilhelm Wien empirically determined a distribution law of black-body radiation, known as Wien's law in his honor. Ludwig Boltzmann independently arrived at this result by considerations of Maxwell's equations. However, it was valid only at high frequencies and underestimated the radiance at low frequencies. Later, Planck corrected this model using Boltzmann's statistical interpretation of thermodynamics and proposed what is now called Planck's law, which led to the development of quantum mechanics.