1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

How to go about learning Quantum Mechanics?

  1. May 23, 2004 #1
    Ok, I'm out for the summer, but we never covered all the quantum dynamics chapters. I am interested, but am having a bit of a hard time in self study i.e. understanding the schrodinger equation. Any recommendations? Any books?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 23, 2004 #2
    Honestly the best way I think to understanding quantum mechanics is to take course on it because you will have a professor as a guide and can ask him or her any questions you desire. I would recommend take a physical chemistry course or any physics course that does QM. Most of the books you will find out there are extremely technical and you may have a hard time understanding the basics behind QM and the shrodinger equation because the books assume you have knowledge of the mathematics required to solve the schrodinger eq. etc. You may or may not be familiar with some of the math I don't know. An undergraduate text book may be your best bet since it is geared towards an introduction to QM for students. Try searching amazon.com for some good texts.
  4. May 24, 2004 #3
    The Schrodinger equation is a partial differential equation. The best book on PDEs is Partial Differential Equations for Scientists and Engineers by Farlow. You will also need a good understanding of Dirac ket-bra notation. An excellent source is Nouredine Zettili's Quantum Mechanics.
  5. May 24, 2004 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Some study of normed vector spaces, of which Hilbert space is an example particularly useful to quantum theory, would pay off. The mathematics of Fourier transforms also fits in nicely with that concept, and these transforms have a use in quantum theory, as when translating between wavefunctions on configuration space and wavefunctions on momentum space.
  6. May 25, 2004 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I used Cohen-Tannoudji and Sakurai. I wouldn't recommend either as a first text.
  7. May 25, 2004 #6
    How about P.A.M. Dirac's Principles of quantum mechanics? You will get the firsthand materials about "Bra" and "Ket".
  8. May 25, 2004 #7


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Dirac is not good as a first book either. One, it's too deep for a beginner, and two, it's dated. If you want bras and kets and their algebra, Sakurai starts right out with them and does a pretty good job of both motivtion and presentation. The Schaum guide on quantum mechanics also has a chapter on them.
  9. May 25, 2004 #8
    Do you think that high school student can learn quantum mechanics ? Actually, I'm in the first class so... whatever. Anyway, I have good maths background (enough to begin with QM) and my question is as follow: How can I learn it ? What books shall I buy (already have Feynman's lectures) ? I have heard neither about any QM course near me, nor any good teacher - so what's the best way to self-study it ? Just sit down reading and making some notes ?

    Thanks in advance for help
  10. May 25, 2004 #9
    Is there an "accessible" "popularization" of QED and/or QCD that is intuitive with maybe a little math? Thanks.
  11. May 25, 2004 #10
    Feynman's lectures are an excellent way to start. I can't remember how heavy the math gets, but I'm sure you can skip the bits where it gets too hairy.

    A good book for first year undergrads is:
    Quantum Mechanics ~ Alastair I.M. Rae
    This is the one we used, but I can't recall how difficult it is. I would strongly suggest starting with Feynman though.

    My advice would be simply to read as much as possible and just try to think about it as much as possible. When I was doing my A-levels (which is sort of the same as High school I think) I just read all the books on QM I could find at my school library. Looking at lots of different sources is also a very good thing to do because everyone has their own interpretation of the theory. This is especially important to realise at this level because most of what you will read will be interpretation as opposed to real formalism.

    The only other thing I can advise is stay on top of your school studies so you will be able to go to college and study it properly. That's when it gets really exciting!

    Last edited: May 25, 2004
  12. May 25, 2004 #11
    I find math in Feynman's lecture quite simple if compared to some other books i've found

    Absolutely no problem with school - anyway I want to start learning QM during vacations so it won't disturb my school grades

    Obviously I'm going to use many sources.
    Last edited: May 25, 2004
  13. May 25, 2004 #12
    Sakurai and Shankar are good. Both very down to earth (they refer to actual physical systems and experiments). The problem I found with Sakurai is that it has a lot of mistakes. The book was printed after Sakurai died, so probably these errors are typografical errors that were never caught.
    I am myself struggling to understand the meaning of some of the math in quantum mechanics. I usually go to the school's library and bring home a bunch of books on quantum mechanics. I think most of the time you can't learn from only one book, unless you find one author whose style an philosofy is very compatible with your way of learning (not my case).
    Feynman (lectures on physics, third volume) is nice, but very long. For every topic it takes a long time to read all the material. But it may be good to have it as a reference (I do).
    Megus and Mike:
    A good way to get an overview of quantum mechanics, to take a look at some of the problems involved, some of the paradoxes, interpretations, history of the subject, etc. is to read some popularizations on the subject. There are many. I recall reading "Thirty years that shook physics" by Gamow, " In Search of Schrodinger's Cat" by John Gribbin. A friend just lent me "The quantum World" by Kenneth Ford, but I don't think it is very good. I think John Gribbin more recently wrote "Scrodinger's Kitten".
    There are some newer popularizations that get into Quantum Gravity and Super Strings, but if you wan to understand quantum mechanics, those subjects are not going to help. I would stay away from those topics untill I understand quantum mechanics proper.
    Mike: With respect to QED, you can try "QED" by Richard Feynman. It is a little book with almost no math, and it is cheap.
    Megus: I think it must be hard for a high school student to learn quantum mechanics, but if you like the subject, trying to understand it can give you motivation to learn the math needed. (Linear Algebra, Differential Equations, etc.) But I think a popularization is a good starting point, before you get into the math-based books.
    Last edited: May 25, 2004
  14. May 25, 2004 #13
    The problem is I don't want to read popularizations anymore. I just have enough of them and I can't stand text about something without explanation everything in a vivid detail (math included). So popularization won't help.

    I love the subject anyway
  15. May 25, 2004 #14
    So try Sakurai and /or Shankar.
    Feynman's third book also gets into all the math and is good.
  16. May 25, 2004 #15
    ...And, of course, when you get stuck, this forum is a very good place to get help.
  17. May 25, 2004 #16
    I just remembered one more popularization:
    "Quantum Reality" by Nick Herbert. It is good.
  18. May 25, 2004 #17
    One other resource I have sometimes found useful is trying to find lecture notes for undergrad courses on the web. Many lecturers put their stuff on the web these days and now and then you can find some real gems. (recently I found an excellent introduction to elasticity by Kip Thorne!)

    You should be a little careful though. Due to the nature of the web you may come across things which are completely wrong, or at least simply a load of rubbish. Check who wrote the stuff before you read it!

  19. May 25, 2004 #18
    Does it get into second quantization of QFT? Thanks.
  20. May 25, 2004 #19
    The Fabric of the cosomos, read like crazy, and you will eventually understand it, brian greene is good at explaining
  21. May 26, 2004 #20
    Obviously - be ready for my questions :biggrin:

    baffledMatt: In order to find some good lecturers' notes you use google ? How do you look for them ?
  22. May 27, 2004 #21
    John Gribbin's popularisations are very good. "In search of Schrodingens Cat" & "The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything" especially. I tend to use popularisations accompanied by my trusty physics dictionary and my Mechanical Engineering handbook (handbook lol its as heavy as a breezeblock but it has all the maths you'll ever need in one place). It works for me so far but I am just a novice. And reading some of the subjects in this forum when i should be working helps too. Oh and a notepad and pencil is mandatory.
    I like this thread. Lots of interesting authors to check out. Please keep them coming.
  23. May 27, 2004 #22
    I have also tried to study QM on my own, and some of the books at the library are extremely technical... not good for me because I only have a rudimentary understanding of calculus, and nothing looks worse than an equation full of undefined variables :yuck:. I have read some of John Gribbins books and it gave me a better understanding of QM, as well as the syndicated PBS shows by Brian Greene.

    While perusing through the library, I did find a book called "Beyond the Quantum" by Michael Talbot. Reading through the first through chapters, this book seems to be more philosophical (even radically metaphysical?) on the subject of quantum randomness. Talbot made references to some of David Bohm's works as well. Its interesting if you have an open mind toward these topics.
  24. May 29, 2004 #23
    You can also take the online video lectures made available by the University of California San Diego at http://physicsstream.ucsd.edu/ [Broken]. There you will find lectures on Modern Physics (Course # 2D) & Quantum Physics (Courses 1430A, 130B & 130C).
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  25. Jun 1, 2004 #24
    With regard to lecture notes on the web, look into MIT's OCW(OpenCourseWare) site which has prettty much everything from classes offered there. This really helped me out in augmenting my studies.

  26. Jun 5, 2004 #25
    Starting out...


    My first <interesting> exposure to quantum mechanics was through Feynman's lectures and a very limited amount of atomic structure course we had in school, when we read just about four lines about the wave equation.

    Back then of course, the Schroedinger Wave Equation looked pretty complicated even with the concise H(psi) = E*psi representation! However, it seems you can go learn quite a bit without complex mathematical techniques, by actually getting a physical feel of things. For instance, it is not necessary to solve the wave equation for the hydrogen atom in general and understand everything about it in one shot--the Lagueere and Legendre Polynomials and the spherical harmonics for instance.

    With every field of science, mathematical formalism is a must though but since we are not yet adept to handle transforms, complex integrals or polynomials which we have no basic idea about, reading from a book like Dirac's would put off the interested student since it gets too deep into mathematics as was pointed out on this thread earlier. At first sight, the mathematics looks complex and possibly stultifying especially to those who have not had much grounding in it before.

    Hence, I highly recommend reading first from some elementary textbook to understand the basic ideas (without mathematics except possibly that of the coulombic and bohr models and quantum numbers) and get a feel of the physics involved before delving into a text that deals with the subject in a greater depth.

    I began reading basic quantum theory from an old chemistry book (Theoretical Inorganic Chemistry by Marion Clyde, Day). I still am reading this book with simpler books like Grant and Phillips. Of course, references to advanced texts are necessary at times not only for clarification but also satisfaction.

    As for the mathematics, I recommend that you become familiar with the "basics", which include vectors, complex numbers (a bit), coordinate systems and transforms (particularly spherical coordinates), the div, curl, grad, laplacian operators, their properties and their physical and geometric signifance. Next, a treatmeant (not necessarily overly mathematical again) of mechanical waves helps (and if you have had some EM wave courses, it helps too). Once these ideas are fixed and you feel comfortable using (and playing with) mathematical expressions involving them, you can start reading a book on quantum physics which talks about physics more, rather than mathematics alone. Leave some part of the math initially. Accept it in fact and go on. Don't get sidetracked by it. You can always come back to it once you begin to understand the formalism...it comes naturally once you begin to understand the physics.

    Make notes, think about the ideas and look at your equations again and again. Try to visualize the situation in your mind without the equations first and let the parameters justify your reasoning, not the other way round.

    This approach has helped me tremendously in not only this particular subject but also general physics over the past few weeks/months and hence I have emphasized more on the physics than (at first) the mathematics.

    And of course, we all would get a chance to read it more thoroughly in college :-)

    Hope you have a nice time with (quantum) mechanics/physics...


Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook