Georgina von Hoppe, of Corran School, asks :-
What is the most scientifically amazing thing you have come across?
Volker Heine, who recently retired as Head of Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University's prestigious Cavendish Laboratory, responded.
One of the very few disadvantages of being a scientist is that once you understand something that once appeared amazing it becomes matter-of-fact. For example, it is amazing that almost all living plant matter is green, until you learn that this is because of one molecule, chlorophyll, which converts the energy in sunlight into chemical energy.
In my own work I try to understand why things are the way they are in terms of a few basic laws of physics which govern how atoms interact. What always amazes me is that it all works! Some years ago a mineralogist at Oxford University asked if I could use these methods to understand how quartz and other minerals behave in geological processes. Sand is mostly grains of quartz. A typical grain of quartz sand contains about a thousand, billion, billion atoms. Our calculations predicted that quartz and many other minerals had atomic arrangements that are in some way "floppy". Before this I could not imagine quartz as floppy as it is such a hard mineral. The floppyness shows up in a change of shape and symmetry when quartz is heated to a special temperature which is about red heat. This sort of thing explains some geological processes and what amazes me is that it worked out using simple principles of physics.
Most amazing to me are the things we don't yet understand. For example, why humans can think.