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Modern Physics - What's the Deal?

  1. Jan 21, 2004 #1
    Modern Physics -- What's the Deal?

    Until recently, I had not heard of things such as QM or relativity. I had always thought of things using the Bohr (right?) model taught to me last year in physical science and, well, throughout my public schooling career.

    What is the current state of physics? Which theories are thought to be most correct? Why isn't QM being introduced or even mentioned in high schools (outside of classes like AP Physics)?

    What I'm looking for is the "big picture" -- an overview of everything that's happening and which theories are dominant.

    Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 21, 2004 #2
    well, it probably isn't introduced in high school physics because the level of math needed is well above that of a high school student. Understand that quantum mechanics is barely introduced at an undergraduate level in college.
  4. Jan 21, 2004 #3
    But what about just the concept and its implications? A general overview of what it is should be taught, shouldn't it?
  5. Jan 21, 2004 #4


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    IIRC, QM is mentioned in high school chemistry, and at the end of physics courses. However, not much emphasis is given to it. It is usually one of those topics that are included if there is time left, which rarely happens.

    I don't know if I would support the idea of making QM more "visible" so early. High school students, in general, need to get the best understanding they can of classical physics in order to get, later, a clear picture of the changes QM introduces, the way they were discovered and the implications they have.

    Otherwise, teachers would have a hard time trying to get students to understand too many revolutions at a time: "One of Newton's main achievements was to describe all forces in one simple equation that works exactly... well, almost, since there's some uncertainty to all quantities, but the theory for that is amazingly accurate... to describe probabilities,..."
  6. Jan 22, 2004 #5
    I teach a little QM and particle physics to 17/18 year olds and am not sure that I fully agree with your point. Feynman's QED is pretty much a set text (the first two chapters anyway) and most of the students enjoy a sense of wonderment at how 'odd' the Universe is. A discussion and understanding of virtual particles, the Uncertainty Principle, Relativity, Casmir effect, wave particle duality, etc helps open up the students minds to the broader picture.
    An understanding of these ideas certainly helps them understand my answers when they ask things like.. "Why can't you travel faster than light?" or "what was before the Big Bang and how could it occur" or "How does a magnet attract a piece of iron?"

    As to the historical concept, Newton struggled with the 'action at a distance' problem of gravity and was never happy with this side of his theory. An understanding of WHY this was a problem, and how it was solved for the other three fundamental forces helps my students to understand why Gravity is still such a problem for Physicists today.

    With the younger students I teach (ages 13 to 16), in the top sets I like to make them really THINK about what they are learning and to ask the questions that don't normally occur to them. It is quite surprising how much Modern Physics some of my 14 year old students know. They read profusely on topics that I have told them about and ask all kinds of very intelligent questions.

    I agree that this is not high level QM ahrkron (and your point above is very valid for many children), but the clever children do love to know that there is a vast and interesting subject out there, waiting to be discovered.... once they've done Ohms Law!!
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