# Where shall I start? (16 y/o wanting to become quantum physicist)

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Fikremariam
I am a 16 years old boy who have adream to become quantum physicist but IAM also aboy who doesn't know the beginningof the road so I thought maybe some comments will be helpful so tell me where shall I start?

maistral, GiriBang, Limebat and 7 others

Mentor
2021 Award
I am afraid the answer will be quite far from quantum mechanics. You will need a lot of mathematics to understand QM properly. Furthermore, reading popular science books about it usually does more harm than good, because the inevitable simplifications which have to be made to write such books are usually plain wrong, if you take a closer look. And unlearn wrong impressions is far more difficult than learning the underlying math instead.

You can get a brief impression of it if you take a look at our QM Interpretations forum to see the level of discussions. But don't get scared, it is actually not understandable for most of us.

So the actual answer to your question is mathematics. Meanwhile you could read about history of science. E.g. the story how Planck found the formula for black body radiation, when, why and how, is an interesting read (and considered the birth of QM).

Killeraj, SolarisOne, Vinh Nguyen and 7 others
Gold Member
But don't get scared, it is actually not understandable for most of us.
For example, I don't know what this is about:
(When I was young and smart, I might have figured it out.)

hutchphd and BvU
Staff Emeritus
2021 Award
I don't think it's helpful to think you need to be some sort of prodigy, and I don't think examples of such prodigies are helpful either. Most physicists were smart as kids, sure, but not wunderkinden.

The OP should work hard in high school and get into the best college he can. That's his task for the here and now and shouldn't be distracted by thinking he needs to build a miracle machine in his basement.

StatGuy2000, Milsomonk, AryaKimiaghalam and 8 others
Gold Member
Do your math homework. All of it. Do all your chemistry and physics homework also.

Mr.Husky, bren456, YoungPhysicist and 11 others
Homework Helper
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2021 Award
I am a 16 years old boy who have adream to become quantum physicist but IAM also aboy who doesn't know the beginningof the road so I thought maybe some comments will be helpful so tell me where shall I start?
If you want to be ambitious, take a look at this and see whether you can understand any of it:

https://physics.mq.edu.au/~jcresser/Phys304/Handouts/QuantumPhysicsNotes.pdf

Demystifier, vanhees71 and BvU
I am a 16 years old boy who have adream to become quantum physicist but IAM also aboy who doesn't know the beginningof the road so I thought maybe some comments will be helpful so tell me where shall I start?
My question to you: On what basis do you dream of becoming a quantum physicist? A TV show? A movie? An article? An interview with a quantum physicist? Do you know a quantum physicist? Do you have actual experience with what a quantum physicist does?

phinds and Orodruin
Homework Helper
I am reminded of Kirk Shinsky my friend from undergraduate days. He won the Westinghouse high school science fair competition 1970 (proton beams in his basement!). He was a good soul.

In his name I will tell you to follow your your dreams but become a well rounded person. Study math above all else . Kirk managed to become a fine human being and professor in the 31 yrs he was allotted before the brain tumor got him. I do wonder sometimes about the proton beams in that context. Take care.

Irishdoug, atyy, vanhees71 and 2 others
Fikremariam
My question to you: On what basis do you dream of becoming a quantum physicist? A TV show? A movie? An article? An interview with a quantum physicist? Do you know a quantum physicist? Do you have actual experience with what a quantum physicist does?
i had no plan for the future but in 2019 on my physics class my physics teacher was motivating us because our grades were low and he told us about the story of his quantum physicist friends life which was full of challenges which inspired me after that day my mind was full of doubt until i post this thread

Vivek33010 and vanhees71
mpresic3
Physicists generally fall into many categories these days, like condensed matter (formerly called solid state) physics, nuclear physics, high energy (formerly called particle physics), astrophysics, plasma physics, geophysics, acousticians, and perhaps a few other branches. Most of these branches use quantum mechanics as a tool. Almost no physicist (perhaps none) is called a "quantum" physicist.
Physicists mostly lead a life full of challenges, whether they end up in a field where quantum mechanics is used often, or not. You can be motivated by many life stories of people who engaged this exciting career. In addition, many mathematicians, engineers, and scientists also learn quantum mechanics, and end up in satisfying careers, as well.
As others have stated in this forum, you will need good grades in all scientific subjects in school, including the life sciences like biology, and all mathematics courses. It is not a good idea to focus too early on "quantum physics" because it may blind you to opportunities where your strengths and interests may lie. Instead, try to regard all sciences with fascination. Seek out motivating teachers, and learn from them.

yjjiang, Keith_McClary, Orodruin and 1 other person
Gold Member
Do you know calculus? If not, that should be your highest priority. It is one of the primary physics tools.

ohwilleke, Vivek33010 and hutchphd
CGandC
As I was recommended this, I'd recommend you to start reading at first the book, Principles of Mathematics by Allendoerfer, Carl B. (Carl Barnett), 1911-1974 , It will help shape the way you will see mathematics and understand things from logical perspective.

Mentor
As I was recommended this, I'd recommend you to start reading at first the book, Principles of Mathematics by Allendoerfer, Carl B. (Carl Barnett), 1911-1974 , It will help shape the way you will see mathematics and understand things from logical perspective.
Wow, that's a pricey book!

Mr.Husky, dlgoff, Keith_McClary and 2 others
Gold Member
Wow, that's a pricey book!
The OP is 16. That is what parents are for.

watamidoinghere, maistral, Irishdoug and 3 others
nucl34rgg
To learn the basics of quantum mechanics, you should learn the following topics first at an undergrad level:

calculus (stewart)
linear algeba (axler)
general chemistry (not sure what the best book is)
ordinary differential equations (devaney)
partial differential equations (haberman)
classical mechanics (taylor)
classical electrodynamics (griffiths)

After these, you will have enough exposure to really do well in quantum. Part of the reason the course is so hard for most people is that a usual physics major taking it has not been exposed to upper division PDE or Linear Algebra yet.

After you learn quantum mechanics, you will realize it is a long road ahead. Quantum mechanics is just the start of a very long journey in physics.

Do not worry, at age 16, showing an interest in these subjects is a good sign! Keep studying math and physics in school. In a few years, you will get there!

Gold Member
I tried to do the same thing when I was around your age, here is what I found useful and what I wish I could have done.

First of all I should have tried to understand calculus and linear algebra better. I would recommend trying to go through Spivak's Calculus (or whatever it is called) and Linear Algebra Done Right by Sheldon Axler. They are both very hard books but they are good and if you manage to go through them and understand them, when you get in uni you will be extremely well rewarded because you will already know most of the math you will learn in your first semesters. Now, Spivak will only teach you single variable calculus iirc, I am not sure what a good resource on multi variable calculus is, maybe someone else can say. Then you should also learn differential equations, but I don't know if you are going to have enough time for all that.

But perhaps before that or in parallel, you should try going through Susskind's Theoretical Minimum books, starting from the one about classical mechanics. You can also find video lectures by Susskind for free on YouTube. He explains the calculus briefly and assumes no background beyond basic junior high-school math you already know.

Another thing I should have done is keep notes. Even when you are reading a book, keeping notes from the book really helps because it is really easy to unintentionally start glazing over things without paying attention. Also solving exercises is really good and important. Oh, knowing how to code will help tons too later on in uni.

You may manage to get through the Theoretical Minimum lectures etc, but getting to a position where you understand QM at a decent level takes a lot of time and math, and you also have school to worry about so don't feel discouraged if you don't get there, because it is hard. In my university QM was taught at the 4th semester, and it was just an introductory lesson which did not go into the deeper stuff.

EDIT: Forgot to say you need to know some very very basic complex variables before any of that soo look into that.

curious__
Gold Member
Some of the ideas suggested in this thread are very ambitious and should not discourage you.

Freshman physics is calculus (differential and integral) based, which is why knowing calculus before getting to college is VERY important. It allows you to concentrate on learning the physics and not the math. Physics uses a lot of math. So taking your high school classes in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, anaylsis, pre-calculus, etc., seriously is also VERY important.

Knowing how to program will be useful to you in general. At this point, it doesn’t matter what language, but if you are looking for a suggestion I would suggest python.

If your high school physics is calculus based let us know. We can then suggest further physics for you to self-study.

If you are interested in self-studying math BEYOND differential and integral calculus, the three areas areas to look at are differential equations, vector calculus and linear algebra. This is not required. The vast majority of your peers will not have seen them either. There is a debate in physics on what is the proper balance between applied math and pure math. So if you are looking for advice, be aware that it comes in two varieties. Generically at your level, I would suggest applied, but there are others who would suggest pure.

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curious__, AndreasC and PeroK
Gold Member
To put it more technically, It's a long way to the top if you want to Quant and Roll ;).( I used to listen to it the classic rock station that played it all day at a previous job).

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Gold Member
Yeah I guess calculus is a lot more useful right now for you than linear algebra so bear that in mind and perhaps ignore it for now.

But still you definitely should know at least some very basic stuff like what a matrix is and what vectors are etc and how to work with them. Also you definitely have to know what complex numbers are and some really basic properties.

Frabjous
Gold Member
Maybe OP can hang out in the quantum physics forum here see if they like it.

Mentor
I am surprised none have mentioned you do not need much calculus. Spivak is an honours calculus text, rather advanced and not necessary. I taught myself calculus at 13 or 14 (forget which) - it is not hard - you can do it. In fact, where I am in Aus, my HS taught it formally to good students at age 14 and 15, although that option was not available when I attended. The book I like for that is:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/0471827223/?tag=pfamazon01-20

Then, as another poster mentioned, move on to the 3 Theoretical Minimum books by Lenny Susskind:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B086YBGTWJ/?tag=pfamazon01-20

Start with Classical Mechanics, then Quantum Mechanics, then Special Relativity and Field Theory.

They are 'popularisations'. But popularisations that are done right by including the math. That makes them unique and perfectly suited to what you want.

After you can move onto the Feynman Lectures, which is a masterpiece but not suitable as a first exposure:
https://www.feynmanlectures.caltech.edu/

Virtually no professor uses them as textbooks, but virtually every professor recommends them as supplementary reading or to read after the main textbook. It is for students not interested in just passing exams but actually love physics.

Thanks
Bill

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Kaguro and Keith_McClary
Gold Member
I am surprised none have mentioned you do not need much calculus. Spivak is an honours calculus text, rather advanced and not necessary. I taught myself calculus at 13 or 14 (forget which) - it is not hard - you can do it. In fact, where I am in Aus, my HS taught it formally to good students at age 14 and 15, although that option was not available when I attended. The book I like for that is:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/0471827223/?tag=pfamazon01-20

I did more or less what you are saying. I ended up misunderstanding calculus and what it meant and being constantly vexxed. It wasn't until I started reading books like Spivak etc that I really figured it out and stopped being annoyed. But your mileage may vary.

Agreed that it's not 100% necessary but that's just what worked for me.

Mentor
I did more or less what you are saying.

Same here. I had issues with calculus until I studied real analysis. I tried to figure them out myself but never could. It was analysis that changed that. I still do not understand why some analysis techniques are not used more often in elementary calculus. For example, here is how e^x and log to base e is done. Define log (x) = from 1 to x ∫ 1/y dy. Then d(log (xy))/dx = 1/x so log (xy) = log (x) + C. Let x = 1 then C = log (y) or log (xy) = log (x) + log (y). Let e^x be the inverse of log (x). Let a = e^x and b = e^y or x = log(a) and y = log(b). e^(x+y) = e^(log(a) +log(b)).= e^(log(a*b)) = a*b = (e^x)(e^y). We can define other bases easily, plus all the usual identities worked out. But look at what is usually done in a basic calculus text e.g. we have only defined x^y for y rational, not real - yet treat it as real, and the proof they use of the derivative of log x or e^x is a joke. There is lots of handwavy stuff like that, and it turned me off. But as you can see, it is so easily fixed. We can't do it with the full rigour of analysis but can go a long way e.g. we did not show that log(x) had an inverse, but can mention the few we assume as we go and do them properly in analysis course.

Thanks
Bill

AndreasC
Gold Member
I feel like we should give you a physics reference. Regretfully, I do not know of a good quantum mechanics reference for a high schooler. Special relativity, however, is something that can be attempted at you level. I would follow robphy and try

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0486240215/?tag=pfamazon01-20
https://www.amazon.com/dp/0226288641/?tag=pfamazon01-20

In my opinion, it is essential to have spacetime diagrams and use them throughout, emphasizing the geometry of spacetime... and encouraging the use of appropriate analogies with Euclidean space.

"A spacetime diagram is worth a thousand words"

(Maybe "spacetime diagram" is too scary...
just say "position-vs-time graph".)

Maybe introductory relativity problems are essentially hyperbolic-trigonometry problems involving a Minkowski-right-triangle, where a length or an "angle" (rapidity) must be found. One has to reformulate the word problem into a spacetime diagram.

Many books have good presentations of formulas and formalism, but not enough connection to the spacetime geometry.

Books that I like that emphasize the spacetime diagrams and "spacetime thinking"... in order of increasing difficulty...
• Bondi, Relativity and Common Sense (especially the development of "operational definitions via the radar method" and the $k$-calculus [secretly the eigenbasis of the Lorentz boost]. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bondi_k-calculus https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/relativity-using-bondi-k-calculus/ )
• Geroch, General Relativity from A to B (although it may seem verbose, it is unusually deep in terms of spacetime thinking)... I read it as a first-year undergrad (assigned as optional reading)... interesting but I didn't appreciate until I sat in on a more advanced course by Geroch (see reference later). Even in the advanced course, he made similar points at a more advanced level. He is a remarkably deep thinker.
The emphasis on spacetime thinking, operational methods, causal structure, modeling spacetime structure.
#cut for length#

Homework Helper
Gold Member
For quantum mechanics,
this could be enlightening...

Some books by Dan Styer might be interesting and accessible:

These items by Ed Taylor might be interesting (as a supplement to Feynman's QED)

In terms of math (beyond the usual algebra, trig, calculus),
I would say that vector and matrices (linear algebra) is important
for relativity and quantum, and all physics in general.

Tobias
Gold Member
One of the things that has REALLY changed over the past 5-10 years is that quantum technology has become much more applied. Most of the work you read about in the news (quantum computing, quantum comms) is increasingly done is big teams of people and the work is becoming increasingly specialised. It is also becoming more and more "engineering like". Four of my former PhD students now work as "quantum engineers", a title that did not really exist 10 years ago.

What I want to say is that "quantum physicist" can mean a lot of different things. I are currently trying to recruit and RF engineer for one of my projects. The person will be doing experiments on qubits and quantum processors (meaning it is "proper" quantum physics )and for these experiments a very good understanding of RF/microwave engineering and signal processing is actually more important than a knowledge of quantum physics; he/she will be working in a team and there are of course other people who are experts when it comes to the underlying physics. Some of the quantum software guys I work with come from a computer science background and some others have a background in quantum chemistry.

This means that there are many different career paths that can lead to work on quantum physics/technology.
That said, a good grounding in math will be important for all of them.
Another important skill is programming; just about every role will include some programming in e.g. Python and this is something you could certainly start learning now.

curious__ and atyy
Staff Emeritus
2021 Award
Time to cite Tom Weller again:

35 years ago, this was a joke. Now, not as much.

That said, I think 16 years old is too soon to be worrying about whether they want to be a quantum scientist, engineer, technologist, or something else. Right now all paths start from the same place: do well in high school and get into a good college.

bob012345, Keith_McClary and wukunlin
Homework Helper
Gold Member
Time to cite Tom Weller again:

View attachment 281132

35 years ago, this was a joke. Now, not as much.

Ha!
I never saw that one.
I found this one when I was an undergrad.

Bob's School of Quantum Mechanics

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Keith_McClary and atyy
Mentor
Ha!
I never saw that one.
I found this one when I was an undergrad.
I thought about Bob’s school, too. I think your scan is better than mine.

atyy
Gold Member
May I give a (late) suggestion for the OP that is more psychological?

I think the OP should study a lot but at the same time, be very patient about his own progress. Most of the mathematics suggested by the members in this thread is just simply overwhelming if you try to perfect it in one or two years.

What is important is NOT how fast you learn it but more about how well you understand it.

People have different brains; some have good mathematical intuition, some do not. Don't think too much about the ultimate result. The human psychology is that people think about themselves negatively when they are too caught up about producing results as fast as possible, and they are quick to lose motivation when they aren't successful. Don't compare yourself to someone who is ahead of you. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday. Set incremental micro-goals. Things always come gradually.

curious__, gleem and jedishrfu
I'm 15 years old and have the same dream, so this thread is quite helpful for me too. Thank you :)

berkeman and bhobba
Tank: so what else do we need besides a miracle?

Mathematics.. lot's of mathematics.

Hamiltonian