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How did you learn QM?

  1. Jun 8, 2005 #1
    I'm intregued as to what route people learnt QM to whatever level you're at. I was taught the 'classic' way - classical mechanics, fields, mathematics, statistical physics etc first, before moving onto the derivation of the 1D Schrodinger equation for a free particle (without operators etc, the intuitive modifying of the classical wave equation to satisfy the de Broglie conditions). This, of course, leads to solutions of the wavefunction for infinite square wells, potential barriers etc. From there the 3D equation was discussed, followed by a first look at spherical harmonics in the solution for the hydrogen atom.

    The next step was the move to an operator based approach, which is where the true beauty really begins to be seen - previously quoted results just 'dropping out' of the mathematics, something which, of course, becomes even more amazing when looking at QFT.

    I feel that I would have prefered to be taught linear algebra first and start from an operator based approach, as this is the language of QM. Whilst starting with a purely calculus approach does indicate where things are going, I feel it hides the subtle beauty...
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  3. Jun 8, 2005 #2


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    I think my path kinda parallel yours. I did my undergraduate work at U. of Wis-Madison, and after the 2 semesters of Intro Physics + calc, there was a course in "Modern Physics" that used Tipler's textbook. While I've read about SR and QM from popular journals, this was the first formal introduction to both subjects. While it was more of a survey of modern physics very much similar Intro Physics, it was a valuable introduction on what was to come, even at the superficial level. So this was a class I took while taking the undergrad. classical mechanics and ODE/PDE in the same semester.

    It was only 2 semesters after that (after E&M) that I took the "hard core" QM course. I waited till I had vector algebra, but unfortunately I did not take linear algebra (it would have been helpful). At that time, UW also did not have a course in mathematical physics, so I remember constantly struggling with all these new mathematics that I had to learn on the spot, concurrently with the physics. This is why I recommend all those math-physics texts in my journal.

  4. Jun 8, 2005 #3


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    Well, I had my first contact with QM in second year of engineering, and the professor followed a horrible book, something of the kind "Quantum mechanics: theory and applications" by Amnon Yariv, which threw in a mixture of algebra, intuitive wave equation stuff and a lot of hand waving. When I complained about that, she told me that if I really wanted to learn it, I should read Cohen Tannoudji, which I did. However, I was still not satisfied, and then she advized me to read Messiah. Now, that, to me, is just a great book. I read it almost completely (except the last few chapters), which then gave me the right mindset to read Cohen Tannoudji. I read most stuff on my own, but I could ask my professor whenever I had some problems (in the mean time, her course for engineers looked quite childish :-)
    Much later, I read Modern Quantum Mechanics by Sakurai. I think that's a book that gives a lot of insight in much fewer pages than Cohen Tannoudji.

  5. Jun 8, 2005 #4
    Ah, Tippler's book - the only book that can actually flow between floorboards.

    If I remember correctly, we were introduced to Schrodinger's Wave Equation in a very simplified way at the end of a first year course on oscillations and waves. We then, in our 2nd year QM course, looked at it in more detail (separation of variables, eigenfunctions and eigenvalues, harmonic oscillator, angular momentum, Legendre functions, hydrogen atom and a first look at spin). It's in the 3rd year that it got more interesting, operators were introduced, we looked at spin orbit coupling in detail, basic spin statistics theorem, measurement problems, EPR etc. The optional 3rd year course covered the variation principle, pertubation theory etc.

    Perhaps the most interesting (Annd useful from a mathematical point of view) was the option quantum computation and information theory course. As it was taught by mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists, it gave a detailed background of the 'why' of the maths, not just the 'what', and introduced such helpful things as the density operator.

    4th year modules cover relativistic QM, beginning of guage tranformations and all that jazz.

    I agree that the intro using purely calculus does give a good precis of what's to come, but I wonder what ground is to be gained by not starting straight with linear algebra and deriving results, rather than stating them then coming back to the derivation later on.

    Then again, I've always had this issue with the education system - my revision technique usually consists of teaching myself the course 'above' the one I'm doing to get a solid grounding of where things are coming from.

    I just wonder how many other people would prefer teaching to be this way.
  6. Jun 8, 2005 #5


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    I've had a course on Atom's & Molecule's physics in the first semester of the second year.In the I-st & the II-nd semester of the third year,i've had the course on QM.Very well done,even though some chapters were missed due to lack of time.The course's syllabus on the internet (even though only in romanian and .doc file) is impressive.

    But i'd say,QM made à la Craiova is okay.First semester's intro was done following Prugoveçki [1] and Akhiezer & Glazman [2].

    [1]J.Prugoveçki,"Quantum Mechanics in Hilbert Space",1971.
    [2] Akhizer & Glazman,"Theory of Linear Operators in Hilbert Spaces".
  7. Jun 8, 2005 #6
    P.S. My main texts have been Rae, Mandl and then Quantum Computation and Quantim Information by Nielsen and Chuang, which is actually very readable as an intro to QM in a linear algebra framework by itself.
  8. Jun 8, 2005 #7
    So you have approached it from the abstract mathematic way, rather than the 'classic' UK way of teaching it?
  9. Jun 8, 2005 #8


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    The first lecture was called "PreHilbert spaces.Hilbert spaces".And the first chapter (almost a full semester) was called "The Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics".The second "The Postulates of Quantum Mechanics" which were presented in the Dirac/traditional formulation in the Schrödinger picture.

  10. Jun 8, 2005 #9

    Meir Achuz

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    I have always thought that QM should be taught from Dirac's book, after getting a good enough math background. (Of course, I wasn't taught it that way.) I rate QM books by how well they present Dirac's treatment. The real problem is teaching Classical before QM. As I read all the "paradoxes" on this website, I realize that all of them come by trying to fit QM into CM language. It's like trying to understand Newton in Aristotle's terms. The same holds true for Relativity. One theory is right and the other theory is wrong (although there are limits in which it gives a good approximation). Since most students are taught the linear way, it is important to remember to forget many classical concepts in understanding QM and SR.
    Anyway, that's my sermon for today.
  11. Jun 8, 2005 #10
    I agree in part, but, and this is a big but, without a gounding in classical physics, how would students know about conservation laws, angular momentum, work and energy etc etc. These are all still fundamental concepts in QM...
  12. Jun 8, 2005 #11


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    I also had a class in "Modern Physics" that used Tipler's book - but taught
    by Norman Tepley instead of Paul Tipler.

    Prof. Paul Tipler taught my first course in "Quantum Mechanics"
    [Fall term 1973 at Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan ]

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
  13. Jun 8, 2005 #12

    Tom Mattson

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    After 3 terms with Halliday and Resnick I learned from...

    Junior Year:
    Intro Quantum Physics I,II: Brehm and Mullin
    Applied Atomic and Nuclear Physics: Eisberg and Resnick, Fermi (Nuclear Physics)
    Quantum Chemistry: Lowe (book by same name)

    Brehm and Mullin [BM] was user-friendly, but wayyyy to wordy. But I liked that I was able to plow through the exercises after reading the book. Eisberg and Resnick [ER] is parallel to [BM], but has an edge: It covers perturbation theory. [ER] also covers some interesting topics such as a derivation of the radiation from a circulating charge. Lowe's book I used while in a graduate level chemistry course (but the QM was upper-level undergrad physics). It was interesting to see the difference in the problems and methods that chemists are interested in (basically approximating spectra for complex atoms and molecules).

    Senior Year
    Quantum Mechanics I: Cohen-Tannoudji, Vol. I

    I hated this book. It makes Brehm and Mullin look terse.

    First Year Grad School
    Quantum Mechanics II: Sakurai, Modern Quantum Mechanics
    Statistical Mechanics: Huang

    By the time I started grad school the department had switched QM books. This is still my favorite nonrelativistic QM book. Taking QM II with it made me want to re-take QM I. But my school was very expensive, so instead I read Chapters 1 and 2 on my own.

    I did not like Huang's book at all, and according to every recommendation I receive Pathria is at least an order of magnitude better.

    Second Year Grad School
    Quantum Mechanics III: Sakurai, Advanced Quantum Mechanics
    Nuclear and Particle Physics (Reading Course): Satchler; Halzin and Martin
    Quantum Field Theory (Reading Course): Bjorken and Drell, vols I and II

    I enjoyed Sakurai's book, but not as much as Mod. QM. I would have preferred one that is 1.) more modern and 2.) makes a distinction between contravariant and covariant vectors. It really is a pain to have to switch notation to compare results with other books. We covered the entire book in 1 semester, and it was a fairly good introduction to relativistic QM and QFT.

    QM III is the end of the line at my school, and I wanted to do subatomic theory. So I did the 2 reading courses, one with an experimental particle physicist and the other with a theoretical particle physicist. I enjoyed Halzen and Martin very, very much. I also had a real appreciation for Bjorken and Drell after having gone through Sakurai.

    I plan to take myself through this stuff again in the near future (I'm beefing up my math right now). With the wisdom of experience, I will choose Sakurai once again to review nonrelativistic QM. You definitely can't go wrong with that. I'd like to also read Pathria for stat mech. And for QFT I will first go through my new copy of Zee's book, after which I will purchase the Weinberg set. Then I plan to move ahead to strings via Zweibach and then Polchinski, if I can handle it.
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2005
  14. Jun 8, 2005 #13


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    Wow,Tom that's an impressive curricula you got there.I bow to you.:smile: Anyway,i still liked my education on theoretical physics and am willing to improve it with each day.:approve:

  15. Jun 8, 2005 #14
    I learned from Haliday and Resnick during Physics III. Then I went to a "Modern Physics" class for two semesters - Schroedinger equation "derivation" etc. Then in grad school we used "Quantum Mechanics," by Cohen-Tannoudji, et al. where its heavy on operators and bras and kets etc. Not to mention many other things I've read on the way.

  16. Jun 8, 2005 #15
    Despite what texts people use, do you feel you learnt the best way you could? Some have started from the abstract mathematics of Hilbert spaces, others (including myself) started from some basic results from Schrodinger's wave equation.

    From what I can see, there are two routes, one followed more often than the other (you quess which...). Firstly, start with looking at solution of the wave equation in position representation, then introduce operators and see where it 'really' comes from. Secondly, introduce the abstract mathematics, linear algabra etc and derive the results the people on the other strand are told.

    Considering the number of replies, I think this is an interesting point...
  17. Jun 8, 2005 #16


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    My course on QM was compulsory.The same things were taught to the future VI-VIII-th grade teachers,to the future high-school teachers,to the future experimentalists,theorists,shop-assistants,bank manager or who knows what other job you can get with a degree in phsyics.

    In the seminars/exercise sessions,we'd do the same creepy exercises,starting with 1D problems solved with SE up until fine structure in the H atom,shapes of atomic and molecular orbitals etc.

    There wasn't actually too much left for the student's research and documentation job,simply because in my country we lack the bibliography in physics...

  18. Jun 8, 2005 #17
    How can one say how things would be if things were different? I myself prefer to learn several aspects and paths to end results.

  19. Jun 8, 2005 #18

    Dr Transport

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    As a 2nd semester sophomore: An Intro to Quantum Physics, French and Taylor

    Junior: Intro to Modern Physics, McGervey

    Graduate student: Quantum Mechanics, Gordan Baym; Quantum Field Theory, Mandl
    (my second time around) Quantum Mechanics, Liboff; Quantum Mechanics, Cohen and Tannouji
    (I didn't learn anything new in my second graduate program taking QM)
  20. Jun 9, 2005 #19
    It's called conjecture, Pete!
  21. Jun 9, 2005 #20
    I learnt straight from wikipedia and used definitions and theorems on hilbert spaces and bra-ket approach, as well as operators etc. you will obviously think that i do not have a sufficient knowledge to say i "know" qm, but i think i'm at least half the way there, and besides we get to do a proper course on it next year, in the 2nd year of my undergrad course.
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