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Best next step for tackling quantum mechanics?

  1. May 13, 2014 #1
    I'm a high school student who has completed classical mechanics and electrodynamics with calculus (equiv. AP Physics C).

    I'm interested in learning quantum mechanics as soon as I can. I've heard of kids my age who are learning that stuff already. Then I open a textbook and see crazy stuff like Legendre polynomials, Dirac delta function, tensors, etc.

    Should I put quantum mechanics aside for now and just learn math? Should I learn MV Calc, linear algebra, and differential equations before tackling quantum mechanics and beyond?

    I've come to appreciate so much of modern physics but it has always bugged me how far I am from understanding things like Einstein's field equations and Schrodinger's wave equation. For instance, I tried reading a paper recently and I couldn't even fully understand how the Minkowski metric works.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 13, 2014 #2
    I never took AP physics so I'm not completely sure what you have actually covered in CM and E+M but you may want to spend some time developing a deeper understanding of those, as well as mathematical prerequisites first. For example, have you been exposed to Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations in classical mech? What about boundary value problems in electromagnetism? In order to really understand these things, you will need vector calculus and differential equations. I would suggest not trying to rush into quantum mechanics without having the proper foundations.
     
  4. May 13, 2014 #3
    I would suggest an intro modern physics text such as Modern Physics by Raymond A. Serway. This is the book I used in my second year modern physics course. It's pretty mathematically lite and is a great introduction to the ideas of modern physics and some of the historical context. There is an elementary treatment of quantum mechanics beginning about half way through the book.
     
  5. May 13, 2014 #4

    jtbell

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    I second the suggestion above. There are several other similar texts: Ohanian, Taylor/Zafiratos/Dubson, etc. These books also introduce you to relativity and some application areas like atomic, molecular, nuclear, solid state and particle physics.
     
  6. May 13, 2014 #5
    Okay, well now I'm doubting whether rushing into modern physics is a good idea.

    If I'm interested in a career in pure physics, should I spend more time right now reinforcing my foundation? I don't know what the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations of classical mechanics are. I wikipedia'd them and they appear to require some MV calc. So should I pursue advanced classical mechanics and electrodynamics (although I don't like electrodynamics much)?

    AP Physics C Mechanics and Electricity+Magnetism are courses that reintroduce the basic equations (f=ma, V= IR) in calculus form (f = dp/dt, V = dq/dt R). They test simple derivatives and simpler integrations (for instance line integrals using Ampere's Law).
     
  7. May 13, 2014 #6

    WannabeNewton

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    Yes without a doubt.

    :eek: Well that's a first for someone interested in pure physics. I can only think of one thing I would find more satisfying and exciting than EM.

    If AP Physics C still has the same basic curriculum it did ~2 years ago then you need a lot more physics before jumping into QM if you want to study QM at a satisfying level of formalism.
     
  8. May 13, 2014 #7
    Can't tell if that's sarcastic haha.

    The curriculum hasn't changed. I think it's pretty shallow-- no respectable university should place students based on scores from this exam.

    Also, it sounds like you took AP Physics C two years ago? Do you have any suggestions for me, especially regarding my next textbook? Should I go through a MV Calc textbook, a college-level mechanics textbook, o something else?
     
  9. May 13, 2014 #8

    ZapperZ

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    What exactly is a "career in pure physics"? What subject areas does someone in pure physics do? What areas are not pure physics? If you look at all the different areas of physics as listed in the APS, which ones are pure physics, and which one are the "impure" physics?

    Zz.
     
  10. May 13, 2014 #9
    @ZapperZ I said that to mean not applied physics, i.e. not engineering. Not sure what the APS is.
     
  11. May 13, 2014 #10

    ZapperZ

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    At Stanford, for example, applied physics includes condensed matter physics, atomic/molecular physics, etc., i.e. Not engineering. Are you ruling those out as well?

    APS= American Physical Society.

    Zz.
     
  12. May 13, 2014 #11
    To be completely, immaturely honest, *points at Einstein* I wanna do what he's doing.

    Modern physics. The stuff you see on Fabric of the Cosmos and shows like that. Maybe when I choose to specialize in a specific field, I'll have to learn some condensed matter physics or something, but for now I want to develop the foundation for modern physics. (I hope I'm still not too vague).
     
  13. May 13, 2014 #12

    ZapperZ

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    The photoelectric effect is really a condensed matter physics topic.

    Last time I checked, Einstein got the Nobel prize for that!

    And just to blow this out even more, the Higgs mechanism that is ubiquitously part of elementary particle physics, came out of condensed matter.

    You have a lot to learn, grasshopper.

    Zz.
     
  14. May 13, 2014 #13

    ZombieFeynman

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    Why are you calling the Anderson mechanism the Higgs mechanism anyway? :tongue:
     
  15. May 13, 2014 #14

    ZapperZ

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    I didn't. I said it came out of condensed matter. I didn't say they are identical.

    Zz.
     
  16. May 13, 2014 #15

    ZombieFeynman

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    All of the CMT faculty at my current institution will call the Anderson-Higgs mechanism what the HEP facult call the Higgs mechanism. I've heard arguments break out in colloquia between one of the founders of SUSY and a famous CMT faculty member about whether priority should go to Nambu or Goldstone. P**sing contests everywhere. :rofl:
     
  17. May 13, 2014 #16

    verty

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    I wouldn't shy away from reading advanced books, even if you don't understand them you will still pick some things up. I compare it to traveling, if you were someone who liked to travel, would you study map books or would you just go and figure it out when you get there? I mean, that's part of the fun. I anticipate that people may disagree with this but who is so rigid that they can spend years learning difficult math without getting bored or disinterested? One needs to vary it a little.

    PS. Though I do emphasize, the foundational learning must be done very thoroughly, just intersperse it with some exploration for a little variety.
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2014
  18. May 14, 2014 #17
    Learn linear algebra. Learn Dirac notation.
     
  19. May 14, 2014 #18

    WannabeNewton

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    No that's not sarcasm. If you don't like EM then I can't imagine you enjoying more advanced physics. That being said, EM isn't done any justice in AP Physics C so you might still enjoy it once you see it done properly in a Griffiths based class.

    You should try to tackle a college-level mechanics book like Kleppner and Kolenkow. MV Calc is very easy to learn so go ahead and learn that in conjunction if you have time.
     
  20. May 14, 2014 #19
    Griffiths is horrid for both QM and E&M. Get Shankar for QM and the Dover reprint of Schwartz for E&M.
     
  21. May 14, 2014 #20

    ZombieFeynman

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    I disagree. Although Schwarz and Shankar are fine books, Griffiths has its place as well.
     
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