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Where to start in quantum mechanics?

  1. May 7, 2015 #1
    I'm interested in quantum mechanics but I am not sure where to begin. I have a a good understanding of classical mechanics, but I don't know where to start in quantum mechanics. I seem to dive into subjects that are too complicated for me to understand at the moment. Where is a good starting place in quantum mechanics?

    (I am a junior in high school so there are no quantum physics classes offered to me now.)
  2. jcsd
  3. May 7, 2015 #2
    We could start by asking what you mean by a good understanding of classical mechanics. QM is taught in college after an intermediate course in classical mechanics including Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations and wave motion. Also taught before QM is intermediate Electromagnetic Theory. On top of that prerequisites for these subjects include Vector Calculus, ordinary and partial differential equations, and linear algebra.

    If you do not have this background a good way to prepare for QM is to learn why QM was developed i.e., study the experimental observations that required the change in the way we viewed our world. and how the physics community came to grips with these observations.
  4. May 7, 2015 #3


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    This is for a full-on undergraduate course in QM. In the US at least, many or most college/university students get their first exposure to QM in an "Introduction to Modern Physics" course that immediately follows the usual two-semester freshman physics sequence. This post has links to some typical textbooks:


    As far as math is concerned, these books require advance knowledge only of algebra, trigonometry, and basic calculus (derivatives and integrals). They try to teach any necessary additional math as needed. It helps if you've been exposed to differential equations, but a full course in them is definitely not a pre-requisite.
  5. May 7, 2015 #4
    Unfortunately, there are only basic physics classes at my school, so I have had to do much of my learning on my own. My knowledge of classical mechanics includes: Newton's Laws, kinematics, rotational dynamics, harmonic motion, and some thermodynamics.

    I am taking a college calculus courses my senior year. So far I have had to teach myself basic calculus. I have not gotten into Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations yet. So I guess that might be a good place to pick up with classical mechanics then. Since I won't take calculus till next year, how far should I get in calculus before I study Langragian and Hamiltonian formulations. Furthermore, what are they?
    Last edited: May 7, 2015
  6. May 7, 2015 #5


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    (I am a junior in high school so there are no quantum physics classes offered to me now.)[/QUOTE]

    I admire your drive in wanting to learn QM, but there is a good reason your HS (or indeed, I suspect, no HS on the planet) offers courses in QM. There is simply too much advanced material to learn as a prerequisite for learning just the math associated with QM.

    OK, so you have probably got one basic calculus course under your belt by the time you graduate from HS, but you'll also need to study vectors, vector calculus, differential equations, infinite series, and several other things as well. That's about three or four college-level math courses right there.

    Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics also pre-supposes that you have taken a course in statics and dynamics.
  7. May 7, 2015 #6
    Today at 9:08 AM#3
    jtbell pointed out that there are Introduction to Modern Physics books that do not require advanced math that are typical for a full QM course. These books do cover the history and development of modern physics to basic QM. At this stage I would not worry about Lagrangian etc. formulation of mechanics. However I would recommend you become as comfortable with Electricity and Magnetism as you seem to be with mechanics. Perhaps someone else in this forum can recommend and appropriate E&M book for you. Such books do need some familiarity with vector analysis, and the calculus of several variables but often these disciplines are developed in the book as needed.
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