Physics 290 Quantum Physics Fall 2016

MWF 10am Labs W/R 1-4
Professors Brian Collett (Lecture & W Lab) { Office G070, x4704 }
& Charles Collett ( R Lab) { Office G057, x4182 }

Course Text:

Quantum Physics: A Fundamental Approach to Modern Physics
John S. Townsend


Hvis man kan sætte sig ind i kvantemekanik uden at blive svimmel, har man ikke forstået noget af det. (Niels Bohr)

If you can fathom quantum mechanics without getting dizzy, you don't get it.(Richard Feynman's translation.)

So far you have studied how the world that you can around works. Quantum Mechanics is the study of how the underlying microscopic world that you cannot see works. As you will see, this is an extraordinarily different world and you may expect to struggle with many of the ideas. We will begin by looking more carefully than you may yet have done at how the waves that we can observe behave. We will start to see the first signs of non-classical behavior in those wavy systems and then go on to develop the physics and mathematics to describe the microscopic world. We will do what we can to build understanding, but the quotes from Bohr and Feynman should prepare you for this to be a strange world; one where understanding may need a different meaning.

More specifically, my goal is to study the first seven chapters of the text in more or less detail. If we are very lucky then we may get to look a little beyond there and take a peek at particle physics and some of the strange quantum ideas that make it into the media, ideas like quantum teleportation. You can see the current state of my planning for the course in the schedule.


This course expects to continue and extend the mathematical sophistication of Physics 195. We will very early need to improve our acquaintance with complex numbers and particularly with the complex exponentials that form the natural description of all periodic functions. We will remind ourselves about ideas of differential equations including the wave-equation and you should expect to build experience solving partial differential equations by the method of separation of variables. You will use the spreadsheet program Excel extensively to do data analysis for lab work. You may use Excel or any other program you are familiar with to do basic mathematics such as graphing functions, integrating numerically etc. I will probably use Mathematica, at least in my examples, and may introduce some homework that uses Mathematica (or Maple if you prefer it).

Like most physics courses, Quantum Physics provides considerable practice toward four of the goals.


The grade for the course will be based on homework, labs, and exams as follows:

Homework Problem Sets

You will receive weekly reading and homework assignments. In order to discourage undesirable behavior there will be a flat penalty for late homework of 20% of the homework grade. This will apply until I post the solutions, at which point a grade of 0 will be entered for that assignment. I will still be willing to provide feedback on such ungradable homeworks if you request. Please get your problem sets in on time! Assignments and solutions will be posted on Blackboard.

That being said, sometimes things go wrong and you can tell that you will have serous difficulty getting an assignment in on time. In that case talk to me. I can be quite reasonable about extensions.


The lab for this course has several goals. First, we want to expose you to some of the techniques that experimental physicists have for probing invisibly small systems, and along the way to perform for yourselves some of the foundational experiments that lead to quantum physics. Second, we want to improve your understanding of uncertainty, its sources, how to account for it in all our results, and something about what we can do to reduce it. Finally, we will be working a little on your scientific communication through your lab writeups.

Lab begins in the first full week of classes. All experimental work and analysis will be done with a lab partner. Always plan to spend at least 3 hours in lab. As indicated on the schedule, we will not have lab during the weeks when midterm exams are scheduled. I want you to keep your lab journals in 3-ring binders as there will be a lot of computer materials to integrate with your handwritten notes. Thus you will need a 1" ring-binder and paper. The lab will have a 3-hole punch.

Each lab will have a writing assignment of some kind to help develop scientific writing skills. These will be graded. The lab notebooks are yours and will not be graded in any detail. However, there will be homework and lab questions that will test the utility of your notebooks and, in addition, we will collect the lab books at the start of each exam week and look at them. We will provide brief feedback on the high and low points each time and will give simple adequate/inadequate grades after the first time. In each case you will get the notebook back at the start of the exam.

My Final remarks

Besides doing problem sets, labs, and quizzes, you have the important jobs of keeping on top of the reading and participating fully during classes by asking and answering questions. The success of the course depends on all of us!

My personal opinion: this topic is really extremely cool and fun. As the semester progresses, I hope you find yourselves agreeing with me.


Hamilton College will make reasonable accommodations for students with properly documented disabilities. If you are eligible to receive an accommodation(s) and would like to make a formal request for this course, please discuss it with me during the first two weeks of class. You will need to provide Allen Harrison, Associate Dean of Students (Elihu Root House; ext. 4021) with appropriate documentation of your disability. (Text courtesy of Allen Harrison.)

Physics 290