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How I would go about becoming a Quantum Physicist

  1. Jul 26, 2005 #1
    I am currently going into my Grade 12 year in high school and was wondering what kind of courses are recommeded in high school to go into the field of quantum physics.

    Also, what kind of studies are recommended in university. I live about an hour north of toronto and was planning on going to McMaster? If there is another school you know of that has good science courses, please let me know.

    Any advice will be greatly appreciated!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 26, 2005 #2
    Um..."quantum physics" is an awfully broad field. In fact, I don't think what you're saying is making much sense. There are different branches that deal with quantum systems such as condensed matter physics, quantum field theory, quantum optics, etc. I'm not sure what Canadian high school is like, but my best advise for getting into physics is to pay very close attention to calculus and math. You can't really "prepare" for physics at a university, the university will drag you along for the ride.

    Just be ready for the shock that you might get from attending a college course and having a full year of high school material completely covered in two months.
  4. Jul 26, 2005 #3
    Haha, yes. I apologize. I was under the impression that Quantum Physics was the study of atoms and such. Ive never been sure on the definition of it. I had one friend tell me that you basically create a theory, and try to proove it.

    If anyone would like to respond to help me out, it would be (again) greatly appreciate :smile:
  5. Jul 26, 2005 #4


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    Well it is the study of atoms but maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan is it a huge thing. Its so huge, people dedicate their lives studying and researching small portions of 'quantum physics'. Ask a counselor or a professor at whatever university you are going to attend, they will surely help you along.
  6. Jul 26, 2005 #5
    Do you know what the general name for the course would be called at the university? I see like, Physics & Astronomy, and things of that nature. But not straight "physics".

    Sorry for all the questions :rolleyes:
  7. Jul 26, 2005 #6


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    physics haha. For example, at my university, they have classes like...

    Physics 4A: Mechanics
    PHysics 4B: thermodynamics and e/m
    Physics 4C: optics and modern physics
    Physics 10: conceptual physics
    Physics 112:
    Physics 140
    Physics 201
    etc. etc.

    Basic numbering system and a few words describing the course. I forget what the real course #'s and names are for those 100+ courses and i dont konw where my cataloge is but im sure you get the picture. It might be different where your going but you can just look at their website and they probably have a catalog showing the course names and such.
  8. Jul 26, 2005 #7
    In general, you aren't going to specialize to anything beyond 'physics' at the undergraduate level. You can choose option courses at the senior level that will be more towards the area you are interested in, but you'll end up with the same B.Sc. in Physics as people who want to do general relativity and cosmology, string theory, quantum optics and quantum information, etc.

    Looking at the McMaster website (specifically http://physwww.physics.mcmaster.ca/cgi-bin/display.pl?page=programmes) I'd say that you'd want to do the Honours Physics program, either the Core or the Theory & Computation stream. The Combined Honours Math & Physics would also be good, but looks to be heavier on the math so wouldn't get you into the physics as quickly or as deeply, until grad school. This can be a good thing, but only if you really enjoy the math at least as much as the physics. The first time you'll get a taste of introductory quantum should be as part of PHYSICS 2C03 - Modern Physics in second year, with a full course of it in 3rd year.

    Once you get to grad school, UBC and U of T have large physics departments that should have whatever you're interested in, and U of Calgary has a new Institute for Quantum Information Sciences (http://www.iqis.org) putting it up along with Waterloo as one of the top places in Canada for that area of research specifically. Any of these places, and pretty much anywhere else, should also be good for undergrad.

    As for what to take in high school, anything math (especially calculus, and linear algebra if they offer it) and definitely whatever physics courses are available. Chemistry is useful too, although it's not strictly necessary and you probably won't ever study it again after first year of university. (Note that when I say not necessary I mean for learning physics - some universities may have it as an entrance requirement to the physics program, so you should check that out with everywhere you're planning on applying).

    Also, check out university websites. Look for the Physics & Astronomy (or similar) Department in the Faculty of Science and read over course descriptions, degree requirements, etc. Also look for the online versions of the university calendars for that info. Guess that's a fair bit of information, hopefully it answers your questions - feel free to ask more though!

  9. Jul 26, 2005 #8
    Thanks guys, for the indepth look at what I should do. I really appreciate it. If anyone has any information or suggestions please let me know. I look forward to hearing from everyone! :biggrin:
  10. Jul 26, 2005 #9


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    has a potentially useful diagram that divides physics into disciplines along length scales. It may help you better focus on your interests. From there, it might be easier to advise you.

    Another distinction that you should consider at some point is whether you want to do theory, experiment, or computation, or possibly some combination of them.
  11. Jul 26, 2005 #10
    there was a thread not so long ago about undergraduate curricula in this section of the forum.

    most modern areas of physics research use quantum physics!

    high energy (particle physics)
    nuclear physics
    low-temperature physics
    condensed matter (<--this is the 'hot topic' right now; forget which school but something like over 40 percent of graduate students were in this field!)
    chemical physics

    may have missed out on some. help me out! :smile:

    further, many projects taken on by current mathematical physicists are developing techniques to solve problems in quantum mechanics. one professor at university of virginia, for instance, is trying to develop new techniques to solve problems in condensed matter systems.

    the REAL question you should keep in your mind is whether you want to do theory or experiment! :biggrin:
  12. Jul 26, 2005 #11
    What is the difference between theory and experiment?
  13. Jul 26, 2005 #12
    Night and day.

    Experimental physics essentially pokes around with physical systems to observe new physical effects or make more accurate studies of older ones to find something new. Theory either attempts to predict new effects, or attempts to explain newly observed ones. There's a big give and take relationship between the two.

    Experimental physics is very technical; you have to be good with your hands and enjoy working with machinery and such. Theoretical physics requires a much stronger mathematical background (as in bordering on having a degree in it). So really, the one you choose to go along should suit your preferences.
  14. Jul 27, 2005 #13
    The line between experimentalist and theorist is a really blurry one for sure. I suppose on the theoretical side there are more "pure theorists" but a lot of physicists fiddle around with both theory and experiment. Of those mixed mutts some are better at math and some better at setting up and performing the experiments.
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