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Intro help for quantum theory -Middle School

  1. Sep 13, 2014 #1
    Ok -- My son is in Middle School (Math Level Algebra 2) and currently is on the math team with an aptitude for science and is interested in Quantum Theory. He just picked up a copy of Illustrated Brief History of time and the Universe in a Nut Shell -- As a parent I am a little lost and I am looking for recomendations for text/books for him maybe of the broader strokes -- perhaps like Quantum by Manjit Kumar or the Big Bang by Simon Singh. --

    Question: are these the correct books or are there better ones to expose him to?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 13, 2014 #2


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    Those aren't textbooks, they're popular science books.
  4. Sep 13, 2014 #3
    Thanks Rocket -- this is why I am on here... He wants to learn and I want to offer resources. Any suggestions?

    If it matters as I do not know the difference, is says he is more interested quantum mechanics specifically. I believe the academic team coach will be tutoring him in general physics.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2014
  5. Sep 13, 2014 #4


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    I think the books you said are good for him to get an idea of what it is all about, but you can't learn from popular science books.

    I read a couple of popular science books and got interested in QM as well. Now I'm doing real QM and I tear my hair off everyday. Those popular science books told me it was fun, not hard work!

    So just use the books you have to give him a superficial understanding of it. Later, if he wants, he can learn the math (calculus, linear algebra etc) and the physics (classical mechanics and electricity and magnetism) and then go do some real quantum mechanics.
  6. Sep 13, 2014 #5
    Thanks again rocket -- Found Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum (text link and video lessons) over on the physics forum under the quantum section...looks perfect. It might be too advanced but i refuse to tell him it is too hard. If he has questions, this forum seems to be a great place to work through them...
  7. Sep 13, 2014 #6


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    Susskind's book is way too advanced.
  8. Sep 13, 2014 #7


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    I don't think one can advise a young learner to read quantum mechanics, if the level of knowledge of classical mechanics and electromagnetism of that person is below decent. So talk to your son and tell him that there's an order of disciplines in which one learns physics. Classical Mechanics (with Hamiltonians) is the starting point.
  9. Sep 13, 2014 #8


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    Well, from a popular science perspective, they certainly can.
  10. Sep 13, 2014 #9
    I agree but he is gonna chew on something finding what he wants to learn about.... i am cruising thru the quantum forum section noting the video links in particular. I am betting this becomes a reverse engineering problem where he has to work backwards from what he wants to understand.

    But he is already beyond Nova type documentaries...and wanting more theory.

    I have no science background per se but a master's in psychology...

    I am begining to think he needs to just start a learning journal and utilize online resources to expand on topics from the general science books...
  11. Sep 13, 2014 #10


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    That won't work out. :(

    Physics has to be done in 1 path (with some exceptions). You can't do GR then QM then EM and then CM. If he is really interested, grab some math books and have him learn functions/trig and calculus. From there, get a good classical mechanics book and go through that alongside a multivariable calculus book.
  12. Sep 13, 2014 #11


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    Sure, popular science should get your appetite for physics, they come not as a substitute of the real thing.
  13. Sep 13, 2014 #12
    I hear yall... it is my job as a parent to encourage him. I understand he is at a popular science level. But it is this curiosity that fuels his desire to study math 2 hours after school and why he is already at algebra 2 in middle school. Passion is a powerful motivator.
  14. Sep 13, 2014 #13


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    Yes it is, but you can't jump into a proper QM book right now.
  15. Sep 13, 2014 #14
    Algebra 2 may be good for his age, but its nowhere near the ability to understand even the most basic concepts of quantum theory. Pop-science is all that he can do until he can do basic calculus, linear algebra and differential equations. At that point he will be ready for introductory quantum texts and classes.

    With passion he could be there in a few years. If you want to encourage him, encourage him with the math. He has to walk before he can run.
  16. Sep 13, 2014 #15
    I agree --
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2014
  17. Sep 13, 2014 #16


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    StevieTNZ introduced me to these books. I have not read all of them, but the parts I've read are very good.

    Also, it is not a good idea to start the second Susskind book without the first https://www.amazon.com/The-Theoretical-Minimum-Start-Physics/dp/046502811X .

    The Feynman lectures are available free online http://www.feynmanlectures.caltech.edu/. The first two volumes on classical physics are great, and the third about quantum mechanics used to be my favourite. Unfortunately, even the great Feynman did not understand quantum mechanics at the time he wrote the book (~1961-1964). The great conceptual advances not in there are Bohmian Mechanics (1952), the Bell inequalities (1964-1976), and Wilsonian renormalization (~1970). Still Feynman was a questing thinker, and mastering physics at Feynman's level is adequate for a high school student :P
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  18. Sep 13, 2014 #17
    Thanks atty
  19. Sep 13, 2014 #18


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    We have a Learning Materials forum that has a mix of introductory and advanced material.

    Hyperphysics is a good site to browse the various topics in physics.

    http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/hph.html (Seems to be unavailable at the moment, at least from my location)

    To appreciate QM/QP, one usually needs a good foundation in the mathematics up through calculus.
  20. Sep 13, 2014 #19
    Thanks Astro...I found the info you referenced...there is alot of great information here, and everyone has been most helpful.
  21. Sep 13, 2014 #20
    From the wiki article on Richard Feynman,

    "The young Feynman was heavily influenced by his father, who encouraged him to ask questions to challenge orthodox thinking, and who was always ready to teach Feynman something new. From his mother he gained the sense of humor that he had throughout his life. As a child, he had a talent for engineering, maintained an experimental laboratory in his home, and delighted in repairing radios. When he was in grade school, he created a home burglar alarm system while his parents were out for the day running errands.[15]"

    Your son might be interested in reading about one of America's best Nobel winning physicists, start here,


    There are a set of four video lectures on Quantum Electrodynamics by Feynman and are for a general audience that your son might enjoy (they are old and the quality is not that great but Feynman was a Master).

    There is a book by Feynman that covers similar material as the lectures that might also be approprite,

    "The strange theory of light and matter"


    Used for 46 cents plus shipping.

    I think Feynman just loved learning and pushing boundaries. Maybe your son does as well.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  22. Sep 14, 2014 #21
    @Spinnor -- much thanks.
  23. Sep 23, 2014 #22
    As a teen, I liked, "Matter, Earth, and Sky", by George Gamow. Later chapters discuss cosmology, quantum ideas, at a good level for young scholars. The book is old and it may be hard to get a hold of. Most important, the book should encourage interest, and turn on the student.
    I also liked Isaac Asimov's "an intelligent man's guide to physical sciences" (his life science book is good too).
    An interesting book on mathematics that is overlooked in HS is the entertaining, "the compleat stratygyst" I believe the spelling is english. This book by C.D Williams. The book treats game theory lightly. I enjoyed this as a junior high (as it was called in those days) student. Another good book although parts were way too advanced for me was David Macneil's Modern Mathematics for the Practical Man. All these books were thought provoking, although all are very old and will likely be hard to find.
  24. Sep 27, 2014 #23
    I always find it weird when people say you can't learn quantum mechanics (etc) from pop sci books. Why should equations be that magical? I feel all the insights I've gotten from my studies in physics can be phrased in words. I think I would agree that most pop sci books out there won't teach you much QM, but I see that more as a practical problem rather than one of principle. I think the main problem with words instead of equations is that you can't check them yourself and have to take it on faith (and of course that one can't predict things well), but other than that I don't see the issue.
  25. Sep 30, 2014 #24
    Even the "easy" mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics (wave mechanics) requires calculus and differential equations. Mathematical expositions on QM are definitely too advanced for someone still learning algebra. So you're stuck at the "pop science" level.

    Of course, that doesn't mean he can't learn anything about QM. One book that might interest you is "How to teach physics to your dog" by Chad Orzel (https://www.amazon.com/How-Teach-Physics-Your-Dog/dp/1416572295/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top). Despite the cheesy premise of explaining physics to a dog who wants to use quantum tunnelling to catch rabbits, this book actually contains some pretty good physics. I was impressed at how he made things simpler without sacrificing correctness. Like any good exposition on quantum mechanics, it's going to require some hard thinking to understand things, but at least it won't require any math.

    Also, a warning: I mentioned that the above book gives simplicity without sacrificing correctness. That's something you have to be really careful about when you're finding "layman" introductions to quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics does give some counter-intuitive results, but there's also a lot of "quantum woo" out there: people who try to justify their fantastical nonsense with a warped view of quantum mechanics. If you haven't had a solid education in physics, quantum woo can sound pretty convincing, so you need to be careful. Even seemingly trustworthy sources (like science channels on TV) aren't immune to quantum woo. Look at any resources on quantum mechanics with a critical eye, and if you have any doubt about whether something is legit, it's probably best to ask people here.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
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