Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A great way to start learning (and understanding) quantum physics?

At UQ the Faculty of Science has an Advanced Study Program, which gets gifted (and hopefully highly motivated!) undergraduates involved in research early. I have a second year student, Michael Horn, who is doing a project with me on optically excited states of biomolecules. However, he hasn't taken any courses in quantum physics yet.

So what should he read? Volume III of The Feynman lectures turns out to be ideal. I never cease to be amazed at Feynman's originality and profound insight. He certainly does not treat topics in the conventional order! Just using a Hamiltonian matrix he describes the ammonia maser, the hydrogen molecule, benzene, dyes, the neutral K-meson, semiconductor devices, ... Only after all this in chapter (lecture) 16 does he introduce the Schrodinger equation (i.e., the differential equation) and the hydrogen atom. Michael only needs to read 12 lectures to learn what he needs to know to understand the essential quantum physics associated with a lot of the photochemical properties of organic molecules.

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