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

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  • #36
gleem
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And always make sure you are proficient at a given level before moving on.
 
  • #37
f95toli
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I know it's been said already but the answer is

1) mathematics
2) mathematics
3) mathematics

I'm not sure I agree. Yes, math is important but it is certainly not the only skill you need; especially if you end up doing experimental physics and/or engineering. Excellent math skills does not neccesariliy translate to being good in the lab.
You need to be "good enough" at math to understand the physics and what you are doing; but it is important to point out that you do not need to some sort of math whizz to work in quantum physics; if you are it might make some things easier but it is always mostly going to be about hard work. Nor do you actually need to like the more abtract/theoretical aspects of maths that much, it is perfectly fine to you just consider it to be a "tool" that you use.

Things are of course different if you want to work in theory; but remember that the vast majority of people who work in quantum physics are experimentalists.
 
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  • #38
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Mathematics.. lot's of mathematics.

Mathematics - yes. But not a lot or a miracle. You can understand Quick Calculus in a weekend. Susskind's books take it from there. It is not as hard as you think. I could have done it at your age easy. In fact, I did the calculus bit at 14.

Thanks
Bill
 
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  • #39
curious__
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Many people suggested that mathematics is really crucial and that the OP has to get a solid foundation of high school maths, physics, chemistry.
That is definitely true. But nobody isn't quite suggesting the detailed methodology about how to get to that level of understanding. I'm going to focus on that.

What does it really mean to have a solid understanding? I believe that - as Richard Feynman said - if you can explain things precisely and concisely then you have understood it clearly.
So, it's a matter of making an output. The input of knowledge is easy - it is the way concepts are taught in typical classes. You simply have to sit down and passively listen to what the teacher says.
Usually the output is very hard. First of all, you will have to think a lot to understand some of the concepts. I mean, when I was in high school, I have the experience of fully dedicating more than one week of my vacation time to understand a single concept. And this happened quite often. This adjective "some" of the concepts extends to "most", or even worse, "nearly all" if you want to do university studies properly.

A very nice way of doing an output of knowledge, in addition to thinking and agonising, is doing a lot of hard problems and exercises. Mechanical repetition of solving easy problems makes you feel like you are a robot, and does not make you understand better after a certain point.
You needn't necessarily do the Olympiads stuff. They often go way over high school contents, so actually are not good choices (but definitely, if you get an opportunity of doing any competitions or Olympiads, I recommend doing so, and in the process of preparing for them you will learn a lot.)

I recommend doing some hard university entrance exam papers. If you are able to solve most problems in such papers you can and will be confident in the depth of your understanding of high school maths and physics.
Specific examples are: for maths Cambridge University STEP which includes very very very hard problems within the A-level "Further Mathematics" syllabus; for physics Oxford University PAT in which the problems are of really high quality within (calculus-based) high school syllabus.
AP is also a good choice but note that it sometimes goes too far away from the typical high school curriculum, and might have a danger of your study being focused on doing superficial problems simply at a broader range than doing hard problems at a narrower range.

Finally, I want to emphasise again that you should go slowly, step by step. I rushed a lot when I was in high school, but all the shallow pre-learning turned out to be not helpful at all. I mentioned STEP and PAT as your possible final goal in the last year, not the first. Do realize and take the advantage of physically existing institutions around you. Following well what your school is doing and working hard to get into a nice university is a very big part of life at that stage, perhaps more important than anything else.

High school studies are a prerequisite for undergraduate studies. If you don't do it properly, it's likely that you won't be able to follow what you are doing in university. Even if you do it properly, anyway you will have to re-learn everything from scratch in university. Think about how maths is simply called "maths" and physics is simply called "physics" in high school. In university, there are at least 6 separate maths subjects and 4 separate physics subjects, corresponding to a minimum of 10 different textbooks.

So don't rush. Instead, enjoy what you can learn, understand, appreciate right now. Play around with it and go deep into it. From your own experiences you will learn more than anybody else has told you. Otherwise, you might get very easily overwhelmed, discouraged, and soon give up.
 
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  • #40
Keith_McClary
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Even if you do it properly, anyway you will have to re-learn everything from scratch in university.
And again, when you get into advanced university courses.
 
  • #41
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To me Schrodingers equation is critical to QM- problem sets such as bounded well problems etc. To understand Schrodingers equation- Fourier Series/ Transformations helps. A lot of people said when I started to learn electronics to learn the basics- eventually I thought wading through a thick text- to hell with that- let's just do some interesting projects- it worked. The same with physics- yes you'll fail and badly- pick yourself up and try again- and the earlier the better.

There is some maths used in physics that isn't used much elsewhere. Physicists take a lot of shortcuts so you better keep up- there is much more maths in physics than in maths. There is a fair bit of new notation.

At some stage you'll come across some inspiring writers and lecturers. As Good Will Hunting says "Whatever makes your hair stand up".

In QM there are some standard concepts they will be repeated in many books but some will present them better than others. If you can't understand one book try another- beware of missing steps. In order to progress in the field the standard concepts will need to become second nature.

Physics has a fairly high drop out rate.

Many physicists never create any theories or obtain fame. Feynman as I understand knew how to differentiate under the integral sign and solve problems few others could solve and learned this just because he read an old maths book. Some of these tricks can make the difference. As they say 99% perspiration 1% inspiration. Just don't be the guy up the back talking about the Earth sitting on the back of the turtle. Sometimes even with hard work you'll fail.

Some have said that it's better to aim for excellence than success- make it a habit- for what ever you do- to do it well- be methodical and disciplined- not accentric- back yourself.

Start anywhere- but start your Quantum Mechanics. Before long you will think about it in a completely different way.
 
  • #43
berkeman
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Also, it's not too tough to locate. Remember, Google is your friend. ;)
If you are suggesting violating copyright law to save a few bucks, I will have to give you a hefty infraction. That's not what you were suggesting, right?
 
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  • #46
Irishdoug
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If you want a concise overview of the type of maths you will need, you can buy (or google for a free PDF!) Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences by Mary L. Boas. To me, it's a classic, and a nice broad, yet not too difficult book.
 
  • #47
paradisePhysicist
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In my opinion, you should start with a good chair. Nothing like sitting at the computer or reading a book for an hour only to get a sore neck and back pains for the rest of the day.
 
  • #48
berkeman
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In my opinion, you should start with a good chair. Nothing like sitting at the computer or reading a book for an hour only to get a sore neck and back pains for the rest of the day.
At first glance, this advice seems misplaced to me in a technical Academic Advising thread. But Actually it is probably appropriate as general advice. I know that the Pandemic Shutdown that caused so many of us to need to work from home caused a large number of ergonomics problems with our work desks / workstations at home.
 
  • #49
paradisePhysicist
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At first glance, this advice seems misplaced to me in a technical Academic Advising thread. But Actually it is probably appropriate as general advice. I know that the Pandemic Shutdown that caused so many of us to need to work from home caused a large number of ergonomics problems with our work desks / workstations at home.
Yes but also even in normal circumstances I'm estimating most people spend at least an hour to 4 hours a day sitting, on the computer, eating or reading books. I have tried reading while in bed but it causes neck strain no matter what position, I highly recommend reading in an ergonomic chair if possible. If they are in high school unfortunately there is nothing much they can do with those chairs but if they are going to some kind of university they may want to upgrade their personal dormitory chair as well. Laying in bed using a laptop can cause neck and back issues.
 
  • #50
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In my opinion, you should start with a good chair. Nothing like sitting at the computer or reading a book for an hour only to get a sore neck and back pains for the rest of the day.
I lie down on my bed with my computer, maybe a book, and a pad to do my calculations. And yes, an hour a day is a good amount per subject. But, as a person just doing it out of interest, like me these days, all I do, is one subject at a time for just an hour a day. Remember, unless you are enrolled in an academic course, it is not a race. Take your time and understand stuff. If you are led off at a tangent, follow that - I have learned a lot that way. Even though my background is in math, I do not go through all the math, i.e. prove everything in a textbook. I did once, but now understand it is about concepts, not the actual manipulations. That way, you will figure it out yourself and understand it better.

Thanks
Bill
 
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  • #51
bob012345
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The only thing you have to do right now is to tell your teachers and parents what your dream is and do well where you are now. Maybe ask your school librarian for some books to scan to see how interested you really are.
 
  • #52
berkeman
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Maybe ask your school librarian for some books to scan to see how interested you really are.
I'm pretty sure if he does that he will get in trouble. Librarians take copyright violation pretty seriously... :wink:
 
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  • #53
phinds
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I'm pretty sure if he does that he will get in trouble. Librarians take copyright violation pretty seriously... :wink:
English is such fun. Scan vs scan. Read vs copy.
 
  • #54
berkeman
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English is such fun. Scan vs scan. Read vs copy.
I think in this case, "scan" was a malapropism for "skim". :wink:
 
  • #55
bob012345
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I'm pretty sure if he does that he will get in trouble. Librarians take copyright violation pretty seriously... :wink:
I meant scan with eyes, like peruse, not make a copy!
 
  • #56
phinds
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I meant scan with eyes, like peruse, not make a copy!
Yeah, but I think @berkeman is right, you did NOT actually mean "scan" (read in detail w/ great care), you meant "skim" (look over briefly to get a sense of).
 
  • #58
berkeman
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Perhaps, but I can see using both words. My usage was more common speaking and not what an English teacher might say.

https://ejoy-english.com/blog/differences-between-skimming-and-scanning/
But the point is that the word choice goes beyond just a simple benign choice sometimes. Sometimes it has ramifications/problems in one form that the other form does not have.

In this case, the term "skim" a book is pretty benign, whereas "scan" a book has the alternative meaning that can involve copyright violations (bad).

Similarly, if you go to buy gas at the gas station, and go inside and the attendant says "Can I skim your credit card" instead of "Can I scan your credit card", that has negative connotations as well, no? :smile:

(to the OP -- sorry for the hijack of your great thread. We'll stop soon...) :smile:
 
  • #59
bob012345
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But the point is that the word choice goes beyond just a simple benign choice sometimes. Sometimes it has ramifications/problems in one form that the other form does not have.

In this case, the term "skim" a book is pretty benign, whereas "scan" a book has the alternative meaning that can involve copyright violations (bad).

Similarly, if you go to buy gas at the gas station, and go inside and the attendant says "Can I skim your credit card" instead of "Can I scan your credit card", that has negative connotations as well, no? :smile:

(to the OP -- sorry for the hijack of your great thread. We'll stop soon...) :smile:

I'm not arguing but I found this definition. The word can be either to glance at or minute study. A synonym is skim.

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/scan

verb (used with object), scanned, scan·ning.​

1) to glance at or over or read hastily:to scan a page.
2) to examine the particulars or points of minutely; scrutinize.

So I meant #1 originally.
 
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  • #60
golda_a
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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?
Coursera has a great course on quantum mechanics. I'm 17 and i did it recently.
 
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  • #61
yjjiang
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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.
I believe this is the best advice. In addition, we probably need a lot of quantum computer (QC) programmers in 5-10 years. I'd think a high school student who has learned some Python should be able to start learning QC programming.
https://qiskit.org/learn/
The math needed is not that much to start programming. Quantum theory is easy when you know how to work with the abstract mathematic symbols but is hard for people to understand intuitively.
 
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