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Freshman in quantum mechanics

  1. Mar 20, 2008 #1
    How rare is it for a freshman in college to be taking quantum mechanics? I know a crazy freshman who is going to be taking it with me next quarter.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 20, 2008 #2
    He is either ahead of the pack, crazy, just auditing, or has no clue what he is in for.

    I know a guy who took graduate level E&M and stuff as an undergrad, but he was just auditing because he knew he wouldn't be able to hack it. He still probably learned a lot.
  4. Mar 20, 2008 #3
    The QM class I had didn't rely on anything above calculus/diffeq, both of which can be taken while in HS. It's probably rare, but with the proper mental maturity I'm sure he/she will do just fine. There's nothing that makes it inherently out of reach of underclassmen, so I don't think it's crazy; I took abstract algebra as a freshman and I did just as well as anyone else.

    I should also say I didn't take a physics QM class :).
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2008
  5. Mar 21, 2008 #4
    If i remember correctly, i know a raising junior who was TA of algebraic topology 2 .... there are always exceptions..
  6. Mar 21, 2008 #5
    Where to begin?

    1) My QM class was heavy into Linear Algebra stuff.

    2) Diff EQ's in High School? Where do you live? Surely not in the US.

    3) You should take a physics QM class. :)
  7. Mar 21, 2008 #6
    Surely you can in the US - concurrent college enrollment while in high school is one way. Also, there are a few science magnet schools (Thomas Jefferson High, IMSA, Montgomery Blair, Bronx Science, etc.) at which math courses up to multivariable calculus are offered.
  8. Mar 21, 2008 #7


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    In many schools, there tend to be an "introductory" class to QM and Special Relativity. It is usually called something like "Modern Physics". So for many physics undergraduate, they don't just jump into the main undergraduate QM classes right away. So maybe you and your friend here are enrolling in that class instead?

    The issue here isn't the undergraduate year of study at all. The issue here is on whether you have the necessary background. Many schools will not allow you to register for a class if you do not have the prerequisites, or a waver from the instructor. If you think you have both the mathematics and physics background to take such a class, then it doesn't matter if you're a freshman or a senior. If you don't, then you need to examine why you are taking such a class.

    Note: having "calculus" alone isn't enough to do QM (or even classical E&M). If you haven't done fourier transforms, Diff. equation, special functions, and linear algebra, then you have to do double or even triple work, because you will be learning the mathematics and the physics at the same time. This is a very daunting task for anyone.

    Last edited: Mar 21, 2008
  9. Mar 21, 2008 #8
    oh, i saw fourier transforms in the back of my DE book

    I am a physics major in community college. im getting ready to transfer but i wasnt sure if i needed to learn fourier transforms. I havent seen them in any class yet. At my school fourier transforms are taught in an engineering class.
    Im doing LA and DE now, perhaps i need to "self study" fourier transforms over the summer.
  10. Mar 21, 2008 #9
    I didn't learn Fourier transforms until I transfered from a CC to a University myself. I think that's normal not to see them yet.
  11. Mar 21, 2008 #10
    I've been meaning to ask, at my school linear algebra is offered but is not a requirement for physics majors; is that a problem (should one take it anyway)?
  12. Mar 21, 2008 #11
  13. Mar 22, 2008 #12
    If you don't have the background for this class I'd say that it's a bad idea.

    My college would not let anybody register for the class without it.

    Are you letting the excitement get to you? Sadly, the last time my college offered QM was fall 06 and I have to wait till fall 08! So, I don't get to take QM until my last semester, basically having to stay at college an extra year because of it.
  14. Mar 23, 2008 #13
    This was precisely the experience at my undergrad. We had a sophomore level modern physics course our second semester of second year. It involves simple things like blackbody radiation, the photoelectric effect, Compton scattering, and other simple quantum phenomena. It also includes a rather brief (1/3 of the semester) introduction to quantum mechanics, in which we breezed over the Schrodinger Equation, spent a lot of time on the infinite square well, and then some time on step potentials. We spent a week learning Fourier transforms in the middle of it all, so we were given all the mathematical tricks we needed.

    To answer the original poster, if a freshman is in this course, it's no big deal. He'd only be a year ahead, and anyone who took college-level calculus-based physics in high school would likely be prepared for it. Heck, last fall I TA'd freshman physics, and my students spent two weeks on basic quantum mechanics, including the infinite square well (definitely my most awesome two weeks of TA duty ever). But if a freshman is doing ladder operators, spin algebra, or crazy graduate level stuff like second quantization (=the devil), then I'd say that he's either a genius, or biting off way more than he can chew.
  15. Mar 23, 2008 #14


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    I'm a junior at a high school in California and I've covered ODEs and multivar calculus. Granted I've done a lot of learning on my own, but I have an excellent science teacher who can guide my studies.
  16. Mar 23, 2008 #15
    Well, my math advisor said that in his first year of graduate school at Harvard he took a class which had a freshman and a sophomore as the graders for the course. He also said it was somewhat disheartening. I also personally know of a physics undergraduate who took graduate level physics courses his sophomore year.

    So, I'd say it's rare for a freshman to take upper division quantum, though, not shocking.
  17. Mar 24, 2008 #16
    I know someone at my school whom is a freshman and taking a graduate quantum class and apparently is the best in the class.
  18. Mar 24, 2008 #17
    I took upper-div quantum first semester sophamore year, if it had been offered in the spring then I could have taken it freshman year.

    all you really need for it is linear algebra, diff eq, and calc 3. a techniques course is nice but not required. If your motivate and decide to wait on the geneds then you can get the first three courses done in the fall, and then take it.

    if you have ap's that is.
  19. Mar 24, 2008 #18
    in response to #2, I was taking DE before I entered UC Berkeley.

    Even in lower-tier highschools here in the US (at least in California), there's usually nearby community colleges that transfer units to many universities where you can do concurrent enrollment while in high-school.

    That's what I did. I did calculus I/II in my junior year and did LA/DE/calc III in my senior year.

    They were all in the same level as the lower division at my school and I was able to transfer them to Berkeley. Therefore freshman year I already had the credentials to work on upper-division work without worrying about my background.

    Thus, in QM, it's definitely possible. It's obviously something that isn't "common" (at least from how I see it), but I wouldn't be surprised if I saw someone in class learning it at such an early time-frame.
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