Quantum Mechanics: The Physics of the Microscopic World

Course No. 1240
Professor Benjamin Schumacher, Ph.D.
Kenyon College
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Course Overview

One day in 1900, German physicist Max Planck told his son that he had made a breakthrough as important as Isaac Newton's discovery of the workings of the universe. Planck had reached the surprising conclusion that light behaves as if it is packaged in discrete amounts, or quanta, a seemingly simple observation that would lead to a powerful new field of physics called quantum mechanics.

In the following decades, a series of great physicists built on Planck's discovery, including Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Louis de Broglie, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger, Richard Feynman, and many others, developing quantum mechanics into the most successful physical theory ever devised—the general framework that underlies our understanding of nature at its most fundamental level.

Quantum mechanics gives us a picture of the world that is so radically counterintuitive that it has changed our perspective on reality itself, raising profound questions about concepts such as cause and effect, measurement, and information. Despite its seemingly mysterious nature, quantum mechanics has a broad range of applications in fields such as chemistry, computer science, and cryptography. It also plays an important role in the development and innovation of some of today's most amazing—and important—technologies, including lasers, transistors, microscopes, semiconductors, and computer chips.

Quantum Mechanics: The Physics of the Microscopic World gives you the logical tools to grasp the paradoxes and astonishing insights of quantum mechanics in 24 half-hour lectures designed specifically for nonscientists and taught by award-winning Professor Benjamin Schumacher of Kenyon College.

No comparable presentation of this subject is so deep, so challenging, and yet accessible. Quantum Mechanics is generously illustrated with diagrams, demonstrations, and experiments and is taught by a professor who is both a riveting lecturer and a pioneer in the field, for Professor Schumacher is an innovator in the exciting new discipline of quantum information.

Think Like a Physicist

Working on the principle that any discovery made by the human mind can be explained in its essentials to the curious learner, Professor Schumacher teaches you how to reason like a physicist in working out the features of the quantum world. After taking this course, the following apparently inexplicable phenomena will make sense to you as logical outcomes of quantum processes:

  • That quantum particles travel through space in the form of waves that spread out and are in many places at the same time
  • That quantum mechanics takes us to a bedrock level of reality where objects are utterly simple, identical in every respect
  • That two quantum particles can interact at a distance in a way that seems almost telepathic—a phenomenon that Albert Einstein called "spooky"
  • That even in the complete vacuum of empty space, there is still a vast amount of energy bubbling into and out of existence

Regarding the last phenomenon, you could say that quantum mechanics not only changes our view of everything, it also changes our view of "nothing!"

Quantum Puzzles

Quantum mechanics has even entered popular language with expressions such as "quantum leap," which is often used inaccurately to mean a radical transformation. In quantum mechanics, a quantum leap is the minimum change in the energy level of an electron, related to the discrete units of light energy discovered by Max Planck.

Another familiar expression is the "uncertainty principle," an idea formulated by Werner Heisenberg in the 1920s. Again, popular usage can be misleading, since one often hears the term used to mean the unavoidable disturbance caused by making an observation. But in quantum mechanics the concept refers to an elementary feature of the microworld—that certain properties have no well-defined values at all.

Little wonder that quantum mechanics is one of the few fields in which philosophical speculation goes hand in hand with scientific breakthroughs. Consider these quantum puzzles that have striking philosophical implications:

  • Schrödinger's cat: Erwin Schrödinger noted that the standard Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics makes it possible for a cat to be considered simultaneously dead and alive when exposed to a potentially lethal quantum situation.
  • Bell's theorem: John Bell showed that we must either give up the idea that particles have definite properties before they are measured, or we must imagine that all the particles in the universe are connected by a web of instantaneous communication links.
  • Many-worlds interpretation: In a scenario adopted by many science fiction authors, Hugh Everett III argued that every possible outcome of every quantum event takes place in a limitless branching series of parallel universes—of which we see only one.

Clear, Enlightening, and Thorough

Quantum Mechanics begins by exploring the origin of quantum mechanics and its golden age of discoveries in the early 20th century before taking you deeply into the key concepts and methods of the discipline. Then Professor Schumacher rounds out the course with a discussion of selected topics, including the potentially revolutionary applications of quantum cryptography and quantum computing. Throughout, he adheres to the following very helpful ground rules, tailored to give those without any previous preparation in math and physics a clear, enlightening, and thorough introduction to quantum mechanics:

  • He presents the real theory of quantum mechanics, not a superficial popularization.
  • He simplifies the subject to highlight fundamental principles.
  • He uses thought experiments, or hypothetical examples, as a tool for probing quantum phenomena.
  • He teaches you rudimentary symbols and rules that allow you to calculate the outcome of various quantum experiments.

One thought experiment that Professor Schumacher returns to involves a Mach-Zehnder interferometer, a simple arrangement of mirrors and detectors that illustrates basic properties and paradoxes of quantum mechanics. By considering the different paths that a photon can take through the interferometer, you discover such key principles as constructive and destructive interference, Max Born's probabilistic explanation of quantum phenomena, and Niels Bohr's concept of complementarity that led to the Copenhagen interpretation—the view of quantum mechanics since the 1920s.

Lucid, witty, and intensely interesting, Dr. Schumacher's lectures are illustrated with scores of insightful graphics. You are also introduced to a celebrated visual aid used by physicists themselves: the Feynman diagram, made famous by Nobel Prize–winner Richard Feynman as a cartoon-like shorthand for keeping track of quantum particles as they ceaselessly interact, change their identities, and even move backward through time!

Be Part of a Great Tradition

Richard Feynman was a graduate student of the eminent theoretical physicist John A. Wheeler—and so was Professor Schumacher, who earned the last Ph.D. that Dr. Wheeler supervised. Wheeler, in turn, was mentored by Niels Bohr, who studied with Ernest Rutherford, one of the pioneers of nuclear physics at the turn of the 20th century. Therefore, as you watch Quantum Mechanics, you are part of an unbroken chain of thinkers who have transmitted ideas and added to them across the decades, pondering, probing, and making remarkable discovery after discovery to uncover the secrets of our physical world.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Quantum Enigma
    Quantum mechanics is the most successful physical theory ever devised, and you learn what distinguishes it from its predecessor, classical mechanics. Professor Schumacher explains his ground rules for the course, which is designed to teach you some of the deep ideas and methods of quantum mechanics. x
  • 2
    The View from 1900
    You investigate the age-old debate over whether the physical world is discrete or continuous. By the 19th century, physicists saw a clear demarcation: Matter is made of discrete atoms, while light is a continuous wave of electromagnetic energy. However, a few odd phenomena remained difficult to explain. x
  • 3
    Two Revolutionaries—Planck and Einstein
    At the beginning of the 20th century, Max Planck and Albert Einstein proposed revolutionary ideas to resolve puzzles about light and matter. You explore Planck's discovery that light energy can only be emitted or absorbed in discrete amounts called quanta, and Einstein's application of this concept to matter. x
  • 4
    Particles of Light, Waves of Matter
    Light propagates through space as a wave, but it exchanges its energy in the form of particles. You learn how Louis de Broglie showed that this weird wave-particle duality also applies to matter, and how Max Born inferred that this relationship makes quantum mechanics inherently probabilistic. x
  • 5
    Standing Waves and Stable Atoms
    You explore the mystery of why atoms are stable. Niels Bohr suggested that quantum theory explains atomic stability by allowing only certain distinct orbits for electrons. Erwin Schrödinger discovered a powerful equation that reproduces the energy levels of Bohr's model. x
  • 6
    Uncertainty
    One of the most famous and misunderstood concepts in quantum mechanics is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. You trace Werner Heisenberg's route to this revolutionary view of subatomic particle interactions, which establishes a trade-off between how precisely a particle's position and momentum can be defined. x
  • 7
    Complementarity and the Great Debate
    You focus on the Einstein-Bohr debate, which pitted Einstein's belief that quantum events can, in principle, be known in every detail, against Bohr's philosophy of complementarity—the view that a measurement of one quantum variable precludes a different variable from ever being known. x
  • 8
    Paradoxes of Interference
    Beginning his presentation of quantum mechanics in simplified form, Professor Schumacher discusses the mysteries and paradoxes of the Mach-Zehnder interferometer. He concludes with a thought experiment showing that an interferometer can determine whether a bomb will blow up without necessarily setting it off. x
  • 9
    States, Amplitudes, and Probabilities
    The interferometer from the previous lecture serves as a test case for introducing the formal math of quantum theory. By learning a few symbols and rules, you can describe the states of quantum particles, show how these states change over time, and predict the results of measurements. x
  • 10
    Particles That Spin
    Many quantum particles move through space and also have an intrinsic spin. Analyzing spin gives you a simple laboratory for exploring the basic ideas of quantum mechanics, and it is one of your key tools for understanding the quantum world. x
  • 11
    Quantum Twins
    Macroscopic objects obey the snowflake principle. No two are exactly alike. Quantum particles do not obey this principle. For instance, every electron is perfectly identical to every other. You learn that quantum particles come in two basic types: bosons, which can occupy the same quantum state; and fermions, which cannot. x
  • 12
    The Gregarious Particles
    You discover that the tendency of bosons to congregate in the same quantum state can lead to amazing applications. In a laser, huge numbers of photons are created, moving in exactly the same direction with the same energy. In superconductivity, quantum effects allow electrons to flow forever without resistance. x
  • 13
    Antisymmetric and Antisocial
    Why is matter solid, even though atoms are mostly empty space? The answer is the Pauli exclusion principle, which states that no two identical fermions can ever be in the same quantum state. x
  • 14
    The Most Important Minus Sign in the World
    At the fundamental level, bosons and fermions differ in a single minus sign. One way of understanding the origin of this difference is with the Feynman ribbon trick, which Dr. Schumacher demonstrates. x
  • 15
    Entanglement
    When two particles are part of the same quantum system, they may be entangled with each other. In their famous "EPR" paper, Einstein and his collaborators Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen used entanglement to argue that quantum mechanics is incomplete. You chart their reasoning and Bohr's response. x
  • 16
    Bell and Beyond
    Thirty years after EPR, physicist John Bell dropped an even bigger bombshell, showing that a deterministic theory of quantum mechanics such as EPR violates the principle of locality—that particles in close interaction can't be instantaneously affected by events happening in another part of the universe. x
  • 17
    All the Myriad Ways
    Feynman diagrams are a powerful tool for analyzing events in the quantum world. Some diagrams show particles moving forward and backward in time, while other particles appear from nowhere and disappear again. All are possible quantum scenarios, which you learn how to plot. x
  • 18
    Much Ado about Nothing
    The quantum vacuum is a complex, rapidly fluctuating medium, which can actually be observed as a tiny attraction between two metal plates. You also discover that vacuum energy may be the source of the dark energy that causes the universe to expand at an ever-accelerating rate. x
  • 19
    Quantum Cloning
    You explore quantum information and quantum computing—Dr. Schumacher's specialty, for which he pioneered the concept "qubit," the unit of quantum information. You learn that unlike classical information, such as a book or musical recording, quantum information can't be perfectly copied. x
  • 20
    Quantum Cryptography
    The uncopyability of quantum information raises the possibility of quantum cryptography—an absolutely secure method for transmitting a coded message. This lecture tells how to do it, noting that a handful of banks and government agencies already use quantum cryptography to ensure the security of their most secret data. x
  • 21
    Bits, Qubits, and Ebits
    What are the laws governing quantum information? Charles Bennett has proposed basic rules governing the relationships between different sorts of information. You investigate his four laws, including quantum teleportation, in which entanglement can be used to send quantum information instantaneously. x
  • 22
    Quantum Computers
    You explore the intriguing capabilities of quantum computers, which don't yet exist but are theoretically possible. Using the laws of quantum mechanics, such devices could factor huge numbers, allowing them to easily decipher unbreakable conventional codes. x
  • 23
    Many Worlds or One?
    What is the fundamental nature of the quantum world? This lecture looks at three possibilities: the Copenhagen, hidden-variable, and many-worlds interpretations. The first two reflect Bohr's and Einstein's views, respectively. The last posits a vast, multivalued universe encompassing every possibility in the quantum realm. x
  • 24
    The Great Smoky Dragon
    In this final lecture, you ponder John A. Wheeler's metaphor of the Great Smoky Dragon, a creature whose tail appears at the start of an experiment and whose head appears at the end. But what lies between is as uncertain as the mysterious and unknowable path of a quantum particle. x

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Your professor

Benjamin Schumacher

About Your Professor

Benjamin Schumacher, Ph.D.
Kenyon College
Dr. Benjamin Schumacher is Professor of Physics at Kenyon College, where he has taught for 20 years. He received his Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from The University of Texas at Austin in 1990. Professor Schumacher is the author of numerous scientific papers and two books, including Physics in Spacetime: An Introduction to Special Relativity. As one of the founders of quantum information theory, he introduced the term qubit,...
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Reviews

Quantum Mechanics: The Physics of the Microscopic World is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 122.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extraordinary Standout Surpasses All Expectations Richly informative and surprisingly entertaining -- indeed frequently hilarious, all in the service of conveying its serious topic to a general audience. Fills a missing piece of what should be considered basic modern education, delivered as a delightful and substantial treat, opening doors to news and concepts previously impenetrable.
Date published: 2015-04-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Quantum Mechanics A little dry. Really could use more schematics to illustrate concepts.
Date published: 2015-02-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from I hate to say it, but.. This is a very obscure subject that needs visual aid. This was largely lacking. For me it was a waste of time. Maybe I will try again but I doubt it.
Date published: 2014-11-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from It's good, but it's tough to hit all audiences ... The Teaching Company has an issue with math-intensive courses -- too much math, and many potential customers are turned off; too little math, and maybe some fundamental concepts are glossed over. With that in mind ... I liked Professor Schumacher, and find him a worthy and capable addition to the roster of teachers used by the Teaching Company. But ... I have a very strong math background and have studied the math of quantum numbers. This math involves complex numbers and multidimensional complex vector spaces. It is not tremendously difficult in and of itself ... If you have been exposed to it. In an attempt to make the course accessible, Dr. Schumacher replaces complex numbers with real numbers and simplifies quite a bit. Too much, I believe. I think that the elimination of complex numbers means that something important and fundamental is missing. He's trying to simplify the math and keep the intuition and I don't think if quite worked. Quantum computing didn't quite click, either. Here again I sympathize. Even the simplest of quantum algorithms is not easy to understand on a deep level. My recommendation - Teaching Company, are you listening? - would be to produce 30 lectures, and offer two versions - the existing 24 bit version, and a version that adds six additional lectures, complete with complex vectors and a deeper mathematical presentation. For the hardcore amongst us, that would be perfect! That idea might work for some other science courses, too. Again, none of this is a criticism of the course per se, or of Dr. Schumacher. Be fair to the Teaching Company - they have to hit a wide audience, and pages and pages of math won't do it. This is quantum mechanics - if it was easy, we'd learn it in middle school. So, two cheers for this course!
Date published: 2014-11-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation. Now, whether you walk away with a greater understanding of the quantum mysteries is another matter. But if you don’t, don’t feel bad. Even the great physicist, Richard Feynman, didn’t: '…my physics students don't understand it... That is because I don't understand it. Nobody does' (in The Strange Theory of Light and Matter ,1988). I’ve asked myself why he would say such a thing, himself being an expert in the realm of the quantum, and my only conclusion is, quantum physics remains obtuse no matter what –– even with a grasp of the math –– which may be because, as Bertrand Russell said in his Collected Papers (1972): 'Physics is mathematical, not because we know so much about the physical world, but because we know so little.' Fortunately, you don’t need math for these lectures. Just listen, and see what happens.
Date published: 2014-11-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Bewildering I understood very little in this course. This is in contrast to Professor Schumacher's course in gravity, which I thought was very good. Maybe some more lab demonstrations might have helped. Additionally, this was the first Great Courses course that I bought as a download, rather than as CD's. During each of the last dozen or so lectures, the presentation froze with the message "The video you are trying to watch is currently unavailable. Please try again later". When I tried again later, I frequently failed to get it. When I got it the second time, it would occasionally freeze a second time with the same message.
Date published: 2014-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good explanation of a very tough subject Professor Schumacher, who is a prominent researcher in quantum mechanics, brings great enthusiasm and innovative ways of explaining things to a subject I think most people would agree is as tough as learning gets. The lectures are comprehensive and include not just the history of the subject (easy) but lectures titled "The Most Important Minus Sign in the World," Quantum Computers," and "The Great Smoky Dragon" (pretty hairy). This is unapologetically a science course; if you want a layman's introduction to quantum physics, this is emphatically not for you, but if you want serious science, it's terrific. Not being a physicist, some of the material went 10 m over my head, but I still learned an immense amount more than I knew before. I enjoyed my strenous mental workout tremendously!
Date published: 2014-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Pretty Good I Thought I am fascinated by quantum mechanics, mainly by the philosophy aspect of it, and what it says about the nature of reality and of the universe. This course was pretty good in my opinion. I liked the professor, and his overview of the quantum world was informative, and was different to anything else I'd seen on videos about quantum physics on youtube and such. The last two lectures touched on my specific interests so I walked away smiling, and having learned a good deal in the 22 lectures preceding the final two. I would recommend this course to those interested.
Date published: 2014-08-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Poor presentation Worst professor of all the Great Courses I have purchased. The material is dated and poorly presented. There are other courses that cover the same material but are much better. Particle Physics and Dark Energy/Dark Matter are much better. I am returning this one.
Date published: 2014-01-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Complete waste of time With Physics & Maths being subjects that come natural to me, I expected this course to be lucid, informative & enjoyable (and maybe a tad difficult). To my surprise I found this course disappointing, frustrating and a complete waste of time. Writing a negative review was the last thing I hoped for. I expected an enjoyable experience from this course because of the positive feedback left behind from other customers. This course was more of a burden than an enjoyable experience. This course has significant flaws and it needs a do-over - preferably with a different professor. One major problem with this course was the length of each lecture. Each lecture was 30 minutes long and with the very little content covered, it felt like an unnecessary and boring experience. The professor speaks in such a slow, condescending manner when discussing simple concepts that it makes me want to just read the book that comes included with it. Each lecture should be a mere 15 minutes long and maybe then I won't keep checking the time every couple of minutes. Second of all, the target audience is unclear. One moment the professor goes into a lot of detail with very simple equations and the next moment he throws out big, important equations with very little to say. When talking about the photoelectric effect, waves, and so on the professor could do with more mathematical content. Maths is vital in physics, especially Quantum Mechanics - a lack of mathematical content can result in a troubled understanding of simple concepts. Last of all, the course, with a few exceptions, has poor planning. The professor just states physical concepts and expects that to be enough for the audience. It's far from enough, he puts very little effort into saying how and why things happen and what are the implications. The professor puts so much effort into discussing the history of quantum mechanics that he sometimes forgets to talk about the actual science of it all. However, he does occasionally include visual diagrams and experiments. All in all, I do not recommend this course to anyone. His analogies are simplified to the point where it's almost helpless, the mathematical content is far too low, there is poor-planning and the course has slow pacing. What I recommend instead of this course is to buy a book that talks about Quantum Mechanics - they may still contain simplifications, but, they are more helpful.
Date published: 2013-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Balance This! I had to post a review of this class after scanning the existing reviews even though I'm too busy to be doing this! If you are thinking about buying this course, consider the reviews on balance. "I'm an expert and this course is too basic!" and "I know nothing and this course is too complicated!" Well, come on man, it's quantum mechanics not 24 lectures on growing tomatoes. It is very difficult to balance a very, very difficult subject between making it suitable for all levels. Schumacher does a great job of reaching this balance. Remember, this is a topic that Einstein had trouble with. As for Schumacher's technique, I found him engaging and interesting. He obviously loves the subject. He's a real person and puts on no airs. I like his style. Is this a hard course? Yes. It took me nearly a year to get through it---because I read books on the subjects as they arose in the course. I repeated some of the lectures many times---that whole spin thing was very hard to get my head around. Worth it? Yes. We're too lazy. We want everything spoon-fed and easy. This isn't an easy subject. I highly recommend the course and the professor. Make the effort. It's worth it.
Date published: 2013-07-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Dissapointed Professor Schumacher presents a wow, gee whiz level of what should be a profound subject. His explanations often fall flat and are incomplete. In lecture 8 his explanation of how to use the interferometer to test the photon detector on a bomb detonator is really not complete. Based on his explanation, there is no reason to think the bomb would not explode during the test. I reviewed it twice and I'm convinced that he doesn't understand it himself. In lecture 16 he spent the entire lecture explaining Bell's theorem and then seemed to conclude that it was wrong. In lecture 22 his explanation of a hypothetical quantum computer left me needing more information. On the good side, there is a lot of information about terms, syntax, names, and the general mechanics of quantum physics, as the course name implies. Not a complete waste of time after all.
Date published: 2013-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from not easy but well worth it While clearly this course is for those who are not physical scientists, some familiarity with high school physics is helpful. This matters because the subject is so unfamiliar, so counter to common sense understanding of the world, that it takes some focused effort to grasp. Knowing high school physics gives a little boost. Taking some extra time over the lectures and re-playing portions pays off; this is probably not a course to watch while exercising. For the non-scientist it is a great foundation to understand, at least on a superficial level, some of the most intriguing findings in modern physics. The lectures devoted to practical applications of quantum theory add greatly to the overall value of the course. The philosophical implications are briefly touched on but also add considerable value. Discussing not just the history of discovery but something of the personality of the main characters and their relationships brings life to the subject. The presentation is well organized, smooth, and clear.
Date published: 2013-04-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Quantum Tidbits I watched these videos and read a book Quantum Theory which was mentioned in the bibliography to the course. While I learned some interesting ideas from the course, and am mathematically literate, I found some of the explanations and calculations a bit tedious to follow from this kind of lecture format. Explanations of theorems are presented in technical language that makes it hard to grasp from a lay person perspective. Professor Schumacher presentation skills are mediocre despite his attempts to make his topic sound really interesting. Two comments, and this goes for many in the Great Courses programs, using your hands to amplify every comment is unnecessary and can be distracting to the viewer. Hand gestures should be used more sparingly to emphasize a really important point, not to highlight every sentence you need to make. Unfortunately it seems to be the norm for many course speakers here. And secondly professor, raising your voice to sound excited is not a substitute for making a truly well explained articulated observation. I say that because while there are interesting findings in this field, the presentations still fell a bit flat. I believe adding more story details to the narrative of Quantum theory, along with greater character development of the various players throughout history would make the course sound more interesting without having to raise your voice when something interesting happens as a gesture to the viewer. Overall the presentations only scratched the surface of topics and players and get into the weeds probably more than it needs to.
Date published: 2013-03-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not Sure Who the Target Audience Is This one falls through the cracks somewhat. If one has a background in physics and is familiar with quantum mechanics, this course will probably be too basic. On the other hand, if like myself, one has just a "popular science" understanding of Quantum Mechanics, one may have a hard time seeing the forest through the trees here. That is to say, I felt at times that the broader conceptual framework of quantum mechanics gave way to a greater level of detail than I was seeking. Thus, while this course would probably be laughably simplistic for someone who has had a university course in quantum mechanics, someone with a "surface" knowledge of the subject might have a difficult time extracting the "big picture" of quantum mechanics from this course. A better buy for someone in this latter category may be professor Wolfson's annuated, but still relevant course, "Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution."
Date published: 2013-01-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Course, but a little hard to process The world of the very, very small is very, very strange. This course had a lot of great information in it. The lecture on the question of whether light is a wave or a particle was nearly worth the cost of the entire course: that's a topic that has come up in many of the Teaching Company physics (and astronomy) courses, but the presentation here very nearly made me feel like I really understood the answer. Some of the set math introduced in this course seems terribly improbable - I've tried to process some of the mathematical claims made in the course and keep thinking "that can't possibly work". But that might just be an indication that I need to go take the probability and statistics course next, which I think I'll do (right when I'm done with superstring theory). My only real criticism is that in this course, it is very easy (at least for me) to lose track of when the professor is talking about something that has been thoroughly tested experimentally and what is just 'how the theory works'. When it gets into making claims about testing the spins of individual sub-atomic particles, for example, I'm left wondering 'can we really do that? Have we actually done it?" That being said, this course left me with the impression that much of this material is not just thought experiments, but rather stuff that has enough explanatory power that we're building new technologies on these ideas. If you're new to this side of physics, I recommend taking the Teaching Company's courses on particle physics and Einstein's relativity first, since some of those concepts are thrown around in this course, but in a very abbreviated fashion.
Date published: 2013-01-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A tangled presentation Professor Benjamin Schumacher knows his stuff, but dwells too long on some things and omits others. I.e., talking about the Pauli exclusion principle for electrons, he tells us that in hydrogen the two electrons have opposite spin; then as he goes on to larger atoms, he doesn't explain how the Pauli EP works for the electrons in higher shells.... how are 6 electrons in different states? Then he says EP exists for protons and neutrons, but doesn't show us how that works for nuclei with odd number protons. Schumacher is often redundant and sometimes lingers on obvious points, like when he spent 5 minutes talking about trying to put his hand into the podium. Also, instead of jumping right into the technical language, I would have appreciated an explanation as to how scientists came to each idea... make it obvious why we need to talk about "base states", etc., explain what led Pauli to his ideas? This course, like most of "The Great Courses" offerings, didnt appear to be scrutinized well enough... overlooking the repeated phrases, pauses and "umms", and disconnected thoughts. I guess I was spoiled by Professor Stephen Ressler's superb course "Understanding the World's Greatest Structures: Science and Innovation from Antiquity to Modernity".
Date published: 2012-12-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Somewhat disappointing I expected much more from that course: quantum mechanics really defines the strange world we are really living in. For one thing the title is inadequate at best, misleading at worst, at least on 2 accounts. First, QM is significant at a much lower scale than miscroscopic and is relevant at the atom level or such. Second, the title suggests that this new physics applies to the "microscopic" world and is irrelevant in our ordinary world; and nothing is further from the truth. QM applies to the sub-sub-sub microscopic world as well as the world of our galaxies. It is just that its effects are so small in the "ordinary" world that it is dicounted. My interest in this course was to get me closer to the real laws of physics and therefore to revise my notions of reality. As Richard Feynman said more than once, nobody can understand QM because its manifestations are far, very far, from our perceptions and living experiences. And yet this is really the way the world works. In spite of the lecturer's claim that it is indeed the case and that nature is very strange, he does not quite connect with bringing to the fore this idea through experiments, examples, etc. For example a wondeful demonstration of QM is given by Leonard Susskind in one of his video lectures (Stanford): in it he shows the two-slit experiment in which independant photons arriving on a screen at a very slow rate "know" where to land and where not to land (creating interference patterns), as if each photon had a memory of where the previous photons landed even though their arrivals may be separated by seconds or minutes. Similarly the phenomenon of entanglement would have deserved a better exposure because it seems to contradict the principle that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. The mathematical formalism of the course was not particularly interesting to me, except for the fact that a new branch of it had to be invented to describe the phenomena associated with QM. I agree with some of the reviewers that the 2 hours spent on quantum information theory, or at least a good portion of it, could have been spent in showing more of the effects, implications and strangeness of QM. That being said, the lecturer was as clear as possible, the course had good illustrations, and I like the teleprompter format because it cuts down on the hesitations, misspeaking, and the difficulty in keeping one's train of thought.
Date published: 2012-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Concise Introduction Professor Schumacher covers an amazing amount of material in a clear and concise way with helpful graphics and demonstrations to reinforcing learning. The course bibliography is a good place to start to supplement this introduction to QM. As I continue to delve into QM, I am realizing the wealth of material presented and the solid foundational introduction provided by this course. As must be the case in only 24 lectures to introduce such a complex topic, there are gaps and some topics would be greatly enhanced with more time for presentation, the reason for only 4 stars for content and value. I hope that TGC considers a QM 2 course to supplement and expand this introduction, or add more lectures to a revision.
Date published: 2012-08-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from History rather mechanics Have to admit neither quantum mechanics nor professor Schumacher impressed me. Professor dwelled too much on the story of QM rather than technical details, although admittedly this series is for amateur engineers. For instance of quantum entanglement, too much on the lengthy and technically meaningless arguments between Einstein and Bohr. I had to google myself and understand the typical experiment so-called Bell-state quantum eraser. Have to admire professor’s courage to philosophize the meaning of existence thru QM. That will surly shock the believers. QM is merely a tool, a mathematical approach that doesn’t even bother to explain the how let alone the why. QM gives only a probability and doesn’t care for the certainty of “to be” which is the case in reality – there is no such thing called Schrodinger’s cat in reality. On this aspect, I have to take Einstein’s side – this is a deterministic universe and we’re just too ignorant to comprehend. One of the biggest assumptions in QM is the uncertainty rule which I have no talent and interest to challenge. However, anybody can challenge the other assumption that all same quantum particles are equal – sounds rather like a politically and philosophically questionable statement from the constitution? I just don’t buy it. Can anyone tell two ants apart without help of a microscope? You get the point. Breaking this assumption can very probably be the key to eliminate the uncertainty of QM and therefore unified with the deterministic theory of relativity. I’m hopeful...
Date published: 2012-05-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Interesting Subject The material presented in this course was interesting -- as well as mind-boggling. The course description indicates that quantum mechanics is counter-intuitive. Other physicists indicate that if one thinks they understand quantum mechanics, then they don't understand it. After viewing the course, I would have to say that I agree. Prof. Schumacher was organized. He presented his material clearly. He provided a nice bibliography. I did find that he spent a lot of time(approximately 4 lectures) on his own areas of interest -- which I felt was excessive. My favorite parts were the experiments presented in the initial parts of the course. These allowed me to see that this area of science is very counter-intuitive and, seemingly, magical. I would recommend this course to those who wish to know a bit about the riddle of quantum mechanics. Thank you to TTC for this Great Course.
Date published: 2012-04-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good initial survey If you are like me, and have never had a course on quantum mechanics, then this course is just about right. If you watch 'Big Bang Theory', look at the apartment's white board. Occasionally, you will see the quantum math notation introduced in this course.
Date published: 2012-04-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Flawed but worthwhile Quantum mechanics is often said to be both amazing and hard-to-grasp and Dr. Shumacher's course substantiates this by following discussions and the historical progress of the field itself. The most prominent feature of the course is that it does a brilliant job of explaining the evolution of this radically new conceptual framework of physics. This is especially interesting in the case of the correspondence between two of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, namely Bohr and Einstein. Dr. Shumacher takes pains to get the most mind-boggling ideas across to the viewer, and I have to say I think he succeeds, at least on the conceptual level. I have some major complaints though. First, Dr. Shumacher attempts to incorporate some math, and I found that unsatisfying. It's not so much that the math was hard for me (I am a computer science major, I deal with math everyday), but that it remains unexplained. Now it might be reasonably argued that delving deeper into the math requires a college course on the topic, and I appreciate that, but, in that case, one has to wonder: why should there be any math at all? As it is, I think the mathematics hindered the flow of the discussion, rather than helping it. Thus, I do not think leaving it out would have been a loss. Same goes for much of the rather special-purpose ideas and technologies discussed in the last few lectures on quantum computing and information processing. I think it would have been a judicious choice to allot this time to elucidating the classical physics behind many of the experiments. As it is, you either have to take many propositions for granted, or work them out on your own. I watched this course with a couple of friends and we were able to figure out the classical physics (which was at times hairy), but it's not easy to do this on your own. The presentation was lucid and lively - by no means boring. I found Dr. Shumacher very likeable. In short, although the quality of this course is not as high as the greatest offerings of TTC in the physics department (i.e. Understanding the Universe, Particle Physics, etc.), given the elusive nature of the topic, I think they did a good job.
Date published: 2012-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional By including a bit more mathematics, this course offers a lot more than other quantum mechanics courses, books and videos, yet is still extremely easy to understand. Professor Schumacher's enthusiasm is catching and makes one want to read up even more on the subject.
Date published: 2012-03-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Needed more visual reinforcement When the material was illustrated by technology aids there was some clarity, and for a course of this type of content, that was nowhere near often enough. Most of the time he resorted to a straight lecturing format and it was often intolerably tedious to the extent that the point or points of a given lecture was never elucidated. Like another reviewer I was also mystified why he used a white background to demonstrate the double slit experiment, the wave-particle pattern against the backdrop was not visible to the viewer, thus useless. It did not seem as if much preparation went into the course and it should be re-done with more visual reinforcement. I admit this was puzzling with this teacher, as I have another course of his that is quite good. For an introduction to Quantum Mechanics, I recommend finding another source, this was not even a good course, let alone a great one.
Date published: 2012-03-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not as good as it could have been QM is a fascinating topic and I found myself really looking forward to the next lecture as the Prof. moved forward. Until we hit lecture 19. While telling us that there is much more to QM than he can present here (quantum tunneling perhaps?), he then launches into his own pet projects in QM - cryptography. He wastes four lectures (19-22) on this most boring subject. I can understand his temptation to delve into his own interests, but 1/6 of the course? What a waste! His last two lectures on the philosophical approaches to QM were interesting but there was so much he could have done with those four wasted lectures. BTW if you're exercising while watching, like I was, he doesn't stick to a strict 30 min. limit per lecture.
Date published: 2012-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear presentation Prof Schumacher does a great job presenting a complex subject. I enjoyed his style and pace.
Date published: 2012-02-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointed I would like to quote another reviewer because I agree completely: "Prof. Schumacher over-explains many sections in great detail, yet glosses over other (more difficult) topics as a passing thought." It was so monotonous sitting through long detailed explanations of simple concepts like how a string vibrates and then frustrating when he skips right past essential parts. I found this course very frustrating and not at all on par with other courses from Great Courses. Schumacher simply does not do it for me and I hope someday to find this material presented by someone else.
Date published: 2012-02-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Over-explained, tele-prompted, not insightful By far, this course is the weakest of the 6 I have bought from TGC. By mistake, I bought 2 copies, and I'm returning both, and here's why: Prof. Schumacher over-explains many sections in great detail, yet glosses over other (more difficult) topics as a passing thought. Quantum mechanics is somewhat new to me; I have read "The Tao of Physics," "The Wu Li Masters," and other introductory books on the subject. I found this course to unsatisfactorily skim the real essentials that I learned about earlier, and dedicate FAR too much time to Prof. Schumacher's research area, quantum information technology. After almost watching almost all of the lectures (I could not stand to watch any more of the tele-prompted scripts!), I gave up. If you want a good course, order the early/high/late mediaeval series with Prof. Daileader or nutrition with Roberta Anding. Those courses are true quality and life changing.
Date published: 2012-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best! I haven't taken physics since college yet Dr. Schumacher presents this fascinating material in a cohesive, simplified yet challenging way. He is an exceptional lecturer, the material has been carefully prepared and builds upon itself and he makes something so "abstract" as a world we can not see, something we can understand (with a couple of leaps of faith!). I would have liked a longer course in which he could have explained HOW we know certain things (such as entaglement), not just that it exists. Yet that would be beyond the scope of this course. For anyone interesting in a new, exciting, yet challenging and changing view of reality, this course is a "must".
Date published: 2012-01-01
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