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Importance of QM to EE and CE

  1. Jan 28, 2015 #1

    I recently read that MIT redesigned its EECS program. It redesigned it about 30 years ago to include more mathematics and solid-state physics but this time they are adding more QM.

    At my university, we study basic QM in freshman year physics and then again in third year in an EE subject that teaches both applied electromagnetism and QM so it isn't in much depth, not nearly as much depth as the standalone physics QM course.

    Do you think being good at QM and having an advanced understanding of it will be important for EE's in the future of EE/CE? Or will quantum mechanics mostly be in the realm of physics?

    If I want to take the physics QM class, I would have to replace 2 subjects (most likely a math and a CS subject) so is it worth it? Otherwise, is it feasible to learn QM on my own? I know the basics, like Schrodinger's equation, linear algebra, spin and all that but how much do I have to learn so that it becomes useful to me as an EE?
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  3. Jan 28, 2015 #2

    Quantum Defect

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    QM provides the rules for things when they get small. There are many interesting advances in optoelectronics which rely important QM behaviors. I think that if you are interested in these areas, you would definitely be better with a better understanding of QM. As circuits get smaller and smaller, Quantum effects will become more and more inportant.

    Probably if you are interested in electrical engineering of big things (power engineering, etc.) this would not be as important.

    I think that it is difficult to learn quantum mechanics on your own. It goes against a lot of deeply held physical intuitions about the way that the world works. I think that this is why you see a lot of fringey science people who do not believe in QM, relativity, etc. It really helps to have someone who is very good at explaining things, to help you from forming incorrect ideas about QM.
  4. Jan 28, 2015 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    Where did you read this? The requirements are here: http://web.mit.edu/catalog/degre.engin.ch6.html
  5. Jan 28, 2015 #4
    I don't know if it's important, but when I took an electronics class, I was pretty annoyed with the shallow description of the physics that I encountered. That's one of the things that lead me to seriously start thinking about changing my major to physics or math. So, for me, it was important for the purposes of not being annoyed by electronics, regardless of whether I "needed" to know it. I learned some quantum mechanics later, but I never got around to finding out how it explains some of the mysterious things about electrons and holes and energy levels that my electronics class left me unsatisfied about.
  6. Jan 28, 2015 #5


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    For computer engineer you do not need quantum mechanics.

    For electrical engineers, my semiconductors class started out with 3 weeks of quantum mechanics. and this was an introductory course.
  7. Jan 28, 2015 #6
    What if you are designing quantum computers?
  8. Jan 28, 2015 #7


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    I wouldn't consider that to be the work of a computer engineer, but it all comes down to interpretation, and there are many grey areas.

    example: Designing a Microprocessor

    Sure a computer engineer will determine the logic behind the processor and draw up the schematic, but is an IC designer and electrical engineer that will actually determine where the transistors go on the boards, determine current draws and gate sizes, etc...

    My point is in my experience computer engineer is usually more high level (in comparison to dealing with transistors).

    That being said a label is just that, a label. Its dynamic and can change. The term engineer today isnt even close to an engineer of the 1850s (Choo-Choo!).
    While my experience as an EE/Comp E hybrid has me labeling comp engineers being higher level than what you are referring to, I will admit that quantam computers will technically require people with knowledge of both areas, so you are correct! :)

    To the OP. If you go to school and study computer engineering in a traditional sense, most of your classes will not even come close to touching quantam mechanics, unless you are studying quantam computers. If you take a traditional EE track, you will most likely run into QM in the field of semiconductors, amonst other things.
  9. Jan 29, 2015 #8
    The redesign was not made to explicitly incorporate more QM, I think my wording is a bit confusing, but what they did is that they reduced core EECS requirements from 4 down to 2 so that students can have more flexibility to go into more depth in a particular area. They also introduced 6 QM courses within the department of EECS, 2 are undergraduate and 4 are graduate. They also introduced 7 new computational biology courses, 4 undergraduate and 3 graduate.

    Here is what it says

    "- Increases integration of life sciences and quantum concepts into EECS. Similar to introduction of math in early ‘50s and solid-state physics in early ‘60s
    - Integrate globalization into EECS
    - Restructure/renovate the undergraduate curriculum by reduce the size of the common core so as to increase depth and add flexibility"

    http://static.googleusercontent.com/media/research.google.com/en//university/relations/eduSummit2007/HalAbelson.pdf [Broken]

    It seems that QM is currently strictly in the realm of physics but as quantum concepts and quantum effects become more common as things get smaller, wouldn't QM also become part of engineering?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  10. Jan 29, 2015 #9
    I am currently studying a double major in EE and CS, just finished first year, going into second year. As you said, there is some QM in EE but what I am worried about is whether QM will become a more important part of EE in the future or not. It is difficult to predict the future, but in this case, since devices are getting smaller, it seems that QM will eventually become important in EE but probably a simplified version of QM, like how LCA simplifies electromagnetism.
  11. Jan 29, 2015 #10


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    If there is one thing EEs are good at, it is compartmentalizing and abstracting knowledge. I'm an IC designer and while I took a stand-alone QM class and came across it in my semiconductor classes I use it close to zero at work. The people who design the process technology I use to design chips know it, but for me, it is enough to know that electrons can tunnel through gate oxide so I should use so-and-so equation to estimate transistor gate leakage. That's it.

    Similarly, when quantum computing finally happens most engineers will work with a simplified abstraction while a few specialists will get down into the nitty gritty. To the OP, if you want to work on the lowest levels of quantum computer technology or solid-state electronics, though, you'll need a lot of QM.
  12. Jan 30, 2015 #11
    Thank you, this makes a lot of sense.
  13. Jan 30, 2015 #12


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    Whether it is worth it depends on what your goals are and what your specialty is. MOST EEs do not need much, if any, QM. I am an EE and learned some QM but do not need it for my work as I work mostly on RF systems and signal processing. If you are personally interested, a modern physics class would probably be fun for you. If not interested, you can live without most likely.

    I felt exactly the same way sitting in my analog electronics class, seeing band diagrams and not understanding anything (is a terrible way to explain how transistors work, in my opinion). The EE department I was in did offer an undergrad sequence on quantum and solid state electronics; I took the first course the next semester, which was a combo of QM and solid state physics that culminated in a quantitative model of a PN junction. At the end of that class I felt like I understood what was going in semiconductors, at least to first order. I think it did provide net benefit, and I understand some of the device physicists at work a little better as a result. But it has not helped my career any. I mostly took it because it sounded interesting, and because it was a prereq (I think a mostly unnecessary prereq) for a number of senior level courses I took: lasers, semiconductor devices, and microwave integrated circuits.

  14. Jan 31, 2015 #13
    In my own experience, introductory QM usually means "modern physics" which includes some relativity and atomic physics as well as QM. A semiconductors class will rely heavily on QM and atomic physics, and other EE courses like transmission lines and optics will be much more intuitive if you've got some knowledge of radiation and the wave behavior of matter.
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