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Is doing quantum mechanics in fourth year normal?

  1. Aug 23, 2014 #1
    I'll be going into first year of a physics degree in early September and I was looking at the module list and noticed that the university I will be going to does quantum mechanics in fourth year. I've since looked at other universities in the area and noticed that they all seem to do it in third year.
    Not only that but electromagnetism is also taught in fourth year which some universities in the area seem to teach in second year or in third year at the very latest. I'm a bit worried now that maybe this physics degree isn't as good as the others.
    Any thoughts?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 23, 2014 #2
    What do you do in years 1-3?
  4. Aug 23, 2014 #3
    In second year: electricity,circuits, magnetism, mechanics,nuclear physics,thermodynamics, astronomy

    Third year: computational, thermal, stellar(astro) , electronics and quantum physics

    Note: the quantum physics module now that I read the description says it "outlines the formal structure of quantum mechanics".

    EDIT there is also maths modules which I can't seem to find.
  5. Aug 23, 2014 #4
    Keep in mind, the information I am going to give is largely second hand, but that seems atypical. Taking quantum mechanics and E&M fourth year is pretty late.

    Is the "electricity,circuits, magnetism, " course(s) a lab? Is this not just E&M?

    If you could give the name of the university one could give more detailed information.
  6. Aug 24, 2014 #5
    It's very normal, you should see elementary QM during modern physics (usually at the sophomore level), following this most people do the full fledged QM course sequence in either third or fourth year.
  7. Aug 24, 2014 #6
    I think seeing quantum in fourth year isn't all that uncommon. I am starting fourth year and beginning the quantum module at the level of Grifiths. As others have mentioned, I did have a sophomore class called "modern physics" that gave the historical background and an elementary introduction to quantum mechanics. Several of my friends jumped into the quantum module as a Junior without the proper foundations in classical mechanics, E&M, PDE's, etc and suffered a bit trying to catch up.

    I think not seeing upper level E&M until fourth year is less common but not detrimental in any sense. A few people I know deferred E&M until 4th year and have made it through just fine.

    Don't base the quality of your program on how soon you get to take classes. Just take it slow and dive in when you're comfortable with the material. Besides, who says you have to follow the suggested 4 year plan?
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2014
  8. Aug 24, 2014 #7
    That is strange to me as well. My only question is, wouldn't you be taking the GRE in early fourth year? And how could you be expected to do well without basic E&M/Quantum knowledge?
  9. Aug 24, 2014 #8


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    His third year "quantum physics" module probably gives him enough basic QM to do OK on the GRE.
  10. Aug 25, 2014 #9


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    You're probably comparing apples to oranges. I'd be surprised if the electromagnetism taught in the second year is at the same level as the electromagnetism course taught in the fourth year. Typically, in the US, there's an intro physics sequence you take during the first two years of college, and then in your junior and senior years, you take the courses where you cover many of the same topics again at a deeper level.

    When I was an undergrad, quantum mechanics was a fourth-year sequence. E&M was split across the end of the junior year and the beginning of the senior year.
  11. Aug 25, 2014 #10


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    It really depends on the university & the country. I did Griffiths level quantum in second year, as well as Griffiths level E&M. Auletta level quantum followed in third and fourth year, along with Jackson level E&M fourth year.

    Actually, just out of interest (and I don't mean to thread-jack), when does GR fit into this? We did Wald level GR in third year.
  12. Aug 25, 2014 #11


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    There are a couple of ways to teach physics

    You can learn the math as you go - say take basic QM in a calculus based physics course first year.

    Then do more advanced QM second year from a book like Griffiths which teaches you stuff like linear algebra and partial differential equations as you go. Then do an advanced QM course final year.

    Or you can do what I did. I learnt Linear Algebra, Applied Linear Algebra, Partial Differential Equations, and Hilbert Spaces all as separate subjects, then did QM. You knew all the required math and progress was rapid - for me anyway.

    Its purely how your school wants to do it.

    My school actually varied between departments. The physics department did it the gradual way - the math department did it learning all the prerequisite math way then sent you over to the physics department for advanced QM.

    They evidently used to send them to the intermediate QM classes but they were bored.

  13. Aug 25, 2014 #12
    Wooly, by US standards your program is a bit lacking.
    A few comments:
    1) Your second year courses use Young & Friedman and typically that would be a first year course here.
    2) Your 3rd year quantum course is what we would call modern physics and would often be taken 1st/2nd year.
    3) I saw no upper division Mechanics course, that's certainly lacking.
    4) The statistical mechanics and thermodynamics bits are good, you guys use Schroeder.
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