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How does one become a quantum physicist/chemist?

  1. Jul 2, 2012 #1
    I am a sophomore (soon to be a junior) physical chemistry major and have been looking into quantum mechanics as a very interesting field that I would like to study in the future. However, all the math involved in the explanations of quantum mechanics seems to be very rigorous (at UCLA functional, real, and complex analysis are all graduate level courses), which left me wondering- how does one actually become a quantum chemist/physicist? It seems like you would need the mathematical knowledge equivalent to having a graduate degree in math, which makes me wonder what the limitations are to having degrees solely in physics/physical chemistry. Is it common for physicists/chemists to degrees in math? Or is all the rigorous math usually handled by mathematicians?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 2, 2012 #2
    I flatly refuse to believe that UCLA lacks undergraduate courses in real analysis and complex variables.

    People become "quantum physicists" (though they generally don't call themselves that) the same way they become any other kind of physicist: they study physics as undergraduates, along with the math courses required by their physics program, and then they apply to graduate school and obtain PhD's in physics. It's just like any other field. If you're interested in quantum chemistry, then your advisor should be able to tell exactly which courses you should be taking, and what you should do afterwards.

    EDIT: Courses at UCLA...
    Math 131A, 131B : Analysis
    Math 131AH, 131BH : Analysis (Honors)
    Math 131C : Topics in Analysis
    Math 132 : Complex Analysis for Applications
    Math 133: Introduction to Fourier Analysis
  4. Jul 2, 2012 #3
    Well I didn't say analysis wasn't offered at the undergraduate level, I was merely noting my observation of courses related to the topics that seem to be most important in explaining quantum mechanics (particularly functional analysis and its prerequisites), and if this observation is inaccurate, well, that's why I asked a question. Also, by quantum physicist I simply meant one who studies quantum mechanics, not necessarily someone employed under that job title.

    Anyway, the main thing I want to know is what mathematical education a [quantum] physicist might have, not necessarily what I, personally, might intend to achieve, and how much advanced (i.e. above what is required for one who is not pursuing a degree in mathematics) a physicist might personally encounter throughout their life as a physicist. I'd imagine a person who never went past lower division differential equations and linear algebra (all the math required for a lower division physics major) might be at a disadvantage in their field and was just wondering how common it is for a physicist to go significantly further into the field of mathematics (just out of curiosity).
  5. Jul 2, 2012 #4
    As an undergraduate, a typical physics student would probably take a full calculus sequence (up through multivariable and vector calculus), courses in ordinary and partial differential equations, a course in complex variables, linear algebra, and a few courses in probability/statistics. A student who wanted to focus on theoretical/mathematical physics might take some courses in abstract algebra, topology, and analysis, if they were so inclined.

    I suppose a graduate student might take some courses in more theoretical mathematics if it were particularly important for their area of specialization, but it's been my experience that mathematics, as taught in physics departments, tends to be less in depth and less rigorous, and tends to be developed along side the physics.
  6. Jul 2, 2012 #5
    Interesting. Well that answers my question. Thank you very much.
  7. Jul 2, 2012 #6
    You don't need to take pure math courses to understand quantum mechanics. Most graduate students I know who do work in QFT have not taken graduate analysis, functional analysis, etc.

    If you want to do quantum, take quantum courses. Some complex analysis, fourier analysis and PDEs wont hurt though.
  8. Aug 14, 2012 #7
    Recently I've decided I want to become a physicist. I will be entering college this fall (at a below average college) and hope to do well. My only problem being is my intelligence. As the first day of college approaches, I've began to worry about whether or not I'll be able to succeed with average intelligence. I know most people don't feel that IQ scores are an accurate way to measure potential, but in the field of physics, I see it as a fairly good indicator of whether or not success is even possible. I think my IQ must be between 110-115. Is it possible that someone with this IQ could be a successful Theoretical physicist or cosmologist with a good work ethic?
  9. Aug 14, 2012 #8
    Short answer: Yes

    Medium Answer: Physics courses are a better indication of ones ability to do physics than an IQ test. Take physics courses. If you do ok, take more.
  10. Aug 14, 2012 #9
    Thanks man. Physics means a lot to me so this is good to hear
  11. Aug 15, 2012 #10
    I agree with Jorriss. You don't need to know any pure math beyond basic math (trig, calculus, multivariable calculus, linear algebra) to problem solve in QM and understand its physical implications, especially in chemistry. In programming actual chemistry simulations, I'd imagine it'll be one of 3 methods: statistical methods or molecular dynamics for non-electronic large scale models or polymers, and DFT for electronic structure stuff.
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