Informal Description of the Course

  1. I've taught this class twice before, in the winter of 2003 and the spring of 2007. Both times the class went quite well and was a lot of fun. It was a large class (around 25 students) and taken by students with a wide range of interests.
  2. We will cover just a handful of key ideas, but will do so from a number of different perspectives. Some parts of this class will be quite mathematical, others will be not mathematical at all. It is likely that you will enjoy some parts of the class more than others. I think that these different perspectives will be complementary. However, there might be a little bit of redundancy at times.
  3. You do not need to have taken Physics I and II here (or anywhere) to take Physics III.
  4. Falling behind in this course is not a good idea. If you're confused about something, it's very important that you seek help sooner rather than later. I can't offer assistance if I don't know who needs it when. You need to take responsibility to seek help if you need it. On a related note ...
  5. I do not expect all of the homework assignments to be easy; I don't expect you to be able to sit down and do them easily the first time. Don't let yourself get frustrated—I strongly suggest working with others and seeking help if you need it.
  6. You should be aware that this course is quite different than Physics III courses at other colleges and universities.
  7. You'll probably spend more time reading and thinking, and less time doing HW than you did in Physics I and/or II or Calculus. The last time I taught the class students reported that discussion with peers outside of class were particularly valuable.
  8. The study of quantum mechanics has a very different feel to it than many other areas of physics. It's weird—far weirder than special relativity. My hope is that this will make you uncomfortable, but in a good way.
  9. For students who are more interested in the philosophical aspects of QM and less interested in the the mathematical theory, it should be possible to concentrate on this some independently towards the end of the course.

What this course is not

  • A modern physics course. Many first courses on quantum mechanics emphasize the tremendous applications of quantum mechanics. This is understandable; QM can explain atomic spectra, the specific heat of solids, semi-conductors, molecular bonding, etc. Courses with this emphasis are often titled Modern Physics. Modern Physics is a standard sophomore/junior level course for physics and chemistry majors. This course is not a modern physics course. It instead considers in considerable detail a few very simple QM systems. The goal is to give insight into the structure of the theory of quantum mechanics and make clear those aspects of quantum mechanics that are different than classical mechanics. This course is not unique. A similar, although less technical, course has been offered for years at Oberlin college. A more advanced version of this course has been offered a few times at Oregon State University. We will be using materials from both of these courses.
  • A philosophy course. This course is designed to explain what's new and different and strange and unsettling about quantum mechanics. In so doing, we will have considerable opportunity to discuss wave-particle duality, entanglement, causality, non-locality, and other spooky and/or philosophical things. However, this is not a philosophy course.
  • A new-age quantum experience. We will not directly cover such things as quantum healing, quantum psychology, quantum consciousness, etc. Nevertheless, this course should put you in a position to examine these ideas critically, carefully, and thoughtfully.
  • A particle physics course. This is not a course about string theory or modern particle physics.

Rough Outline

  1. The first part of the course of the course we will use Dan Styer's book, the Strange World of Quantum Mechanics. In the past, students have liked like this book but occasionally wondered if Styer was over-simplifying things.
  2. The second part of the course we will dig deeper into some of the philosophical questions raised by QM. In so doing we will read a handful of articles and book chapters that aren't from Styer.
  3. For the third part, we will use parts of the short book by McIntyre. In so doing, we will revisit many of the topics covered by Styer, but in a much more mathematical way. Those of you who like math and abstraction will enjoy this. I think you will find, however, that the math doesn't help with the philosophical or conceptual questions raised by QM. I suspect at this point that you will appreciate Styer's book much more than you might have at first.
  4. We will then look some at the historical development of QM. There will be two prongs to this. One will be scientific, the other historical and social. For the scientific prong, we'll use some materials from traditional modern physics texts. And for the historical, we'll read a few essays about some of the key scientists who developed QM.
  5. Finally, we will end the term with a discussion of cryptography and quantum cryptography. This is a fun topic that seems to go well in the last few weeks of spring term.