A New Model Course in Applied Quantum Physics
E.F. Redish, R.N. Steinberg, M.C. Wittmann

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Course Philosophy

The New Model Course in Applied Quantum Physics has been designed to help students ranging from introductory non-physics students to advanced physics majors.

Quantum physics is a huge subject. Students first approaching the subject need to focus not only on the new mathematics but also on the conceptual issues that underlie the physics. For many students, the mathematical treatment normally offered to physicists can be discouraging and may keep them from committing to further study in quantum physics. Other students will take only a single quantum physics course. Students in a predominantly mathematical course may need additional activities to come to a better understanding of the new concepts and representations.

Getting to the "good stuff"...

We have designed the course to focus on specific topics that are of interest to our chosen population. We believe that an integrated course of qualitative, mathematical, conceptual, and application-driven instruction can be of value to all students.

Realistic treatments of relevant examples tend to require the full toolbox of quantum mechanics - atomic and molecular wavefunctions, band structures, complex Fermi surfaces, entangled states for quantum computing, etc. To teach these examples at an early stage of learning quantum physics requires a new approach to instruction.

... by designing courses to match the population

In this project, we propose that one-semester quantum physics courses can be designed to match specific populations. Instead of demanding a realistic treatment of the relevant phenomena, the course is designed to focus on conceptual development (with appropriate mathematics) leading to simplified models. These models can

  • be conceptually realistic,
  • rely on the fundamentals of quantum physics for their description, and
  • be mathematically appropriate for their audience.

In addition, these models allow early analysis of devices that are of interest to the population in our classrooms.

Example: electrical engineers

Many of the materials in this CD have been developed in the context of a one-semester quantum physics course for junior and senior electrical engineers. By picking and choosing an appropriate and coherent subset of quantum topics, it remains an "honest" quantum course while "impedance matching" to the mathematical strengths of the population.

The focus is on one-dimensional Schrödinger quantum mechanics and relies heavily on the mathematics of ordinary differential equations and Fourier expansions, topics in which the electrical engineers tend to be strong. It suppresses the matrix and state methods, eliminating linear algebra and partial differential equations, topics in which the electrical engineers are often weaker.

By eliminating most three-dimensional quantum problems (particularly, angular momentum and related issues) and relativity, time remains for a serious treatment of tunneling, conductivity, and semiconductors, with a basic introduction to the quantum mechanics underlying such devices as the STM, diode, and transistor.

Example: physics majors

The materials on this CD match well to physics majors taking either their first modern physics course or taking more advanced quantum mechanics courses. While covering more mathematical topics in lecture, the students have the opportunity to discuss conceptual topics in interesting and novel settings.

Other populations

For other populations, one might well want to choose differently. For example, for computer science students interested in quantum computing, one might want to focus on spin, matrix methods, and entangled state issues. For biologists and chemists, one might want to assume that the students have had a rather extensive introduction to the qualitative quantum mechanics of atoms and molecules in a chemistry course. Even for instructors of these populations, the contents of this CD (including those not related to specific classroom materials) may of value in helping design courses better matched to specific populations.

As an example of how a course might be designed for electrical engineers, click on the Example Course Outline. For a summary of course materials that can be used more generally with many different populations, click on the Summary of Course Materials.




Last modified 2k1 Feb 19