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QM for electrical engineering?

  1. Jul 29, 2015 #1
    Hi there PFers

    I'm looking into a variety of areas of research in electrical engineering at US universities. For instance, looking at the University of Texas page, there's a research specialty in EE called "plasma/quantum devices and optics."

    Now, this looks very interesting to me. I was wondering how beneficial it would be for me to take the intro modern physics and/or the first quantum mechanics course from my physics department. I will be taking one (or maybe two, if it's offered) course on semiconductor devices from my EE department, which will no doubt contain at least some very basic QM.

    Of course, tacking on the physics department course would put me at 20 hours next semester, which could potentially distract me from the research I'm doing in another (unrelated) field of EE.

    So, is it more beneficial to take the course from the physics department and deal with a heavier workload (that may distract me from unrelated EE research), or just take the solid state devices courses my department offers, since there are probably engineering QM courses offered at whatever grad school I go to?

    Now, I could ask for some solo project from the solid state devices professor this semester as part of an honors contract (a contract that allows me to get honors credit for the course in exchange for extra work). Assuming he would give me a suitable project, would this be looked at favorably by graduate schools? As in, could that be considered actual research, given that it's big enough? If that's the case, it may make more sense to just do that with my extra time and not take the physics course.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 29, 2015 #2
    If you haven't had intro to modern physics and plan on pursuing graduate research in
    then it would be very beneficial that you took at minimum intro to modern physics (which is typically a prereq to quantum mechanics). Most of the solid state course offerings in a EE department tend to vary from very light theoretical background to a comparable QM course offered in the physics department. Another alternative that you might consider is a open course starting this fall


    by David Miller. I have used his book as a reference it seems very well written and quite practical if you were ever needing to do design at the quantum level.
  4. Jul 30, 2015 #3
    Outside of your various research things going on, I would throw in that a semiconductor course can vary significantly from very physics oriented (e.g. essentially an applied condensed matter course) to very engineering oriented (e.g. focused primarily on industrial design and applications). The former would realistically require QM as a prereq, while the latter probably wouldn't teach you any QM other than "electrons don't behave classically, this is a vague qualitative idea of electron bands, and someone else has calculated all the values you need to do your work so you won't need to know any quantum".

    More generally solid state and condensed matter including semiconductor stuff tends to be a little more "hand-wavey" than straight QM since you can't actually directly calculate anything about the many body systems, so it's all approximations and such anyway. However a first course in QM will at the very least introduce you to the SE and stuff like expectation values and observables, which is useful in understanding the former hand-wavey stuff (at least this is what I gather).

    You should definitely take the modern phys course, whether you want to take the QM depends somewhat on your aspirations. It'll be basically useless context "for culture" if you go into industry, but if you go onto grad school depending on your focus it could be quite useful. Obviously if you're going into device physics and/or optics/photonics it's probably quite useful, but if you go into just general semiconductor/EE stuff it's probably less essential.
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