Quantum Mechanics Open Course from MIT

Kids today don’t know how good they have it. Back when I was learning quantum mechanics, the process involved steps like “going to lectures.” Not only did that require physical movement from the comfort of one’s home to dilapidated lecture halls, but — get this — you actually had to be there at some pre-arranged time! Often early in the morning.

These days, all you have to do is fire up the YouTube and watch lectures on your own time. MIT has just released an entire undergraduate quantum course, lovingly titled “8.04” because that’s how MIT rolls. The prof is Allan Adams, who is generally a fantastic lecturer — so I’m suspecting these are really good even though I haven’t actually watched them all myself. Here’s the first lecture, “Introduction to Superposition.”

Allan’s approach in this video is actually based on the first two chapters of Quantum Mechanics and Experience by philosopher David Albert. I’m sure this will be very disconcerting to the philosophy-skeptics haunting the comment section of the previous post.

This is just one of many great physics courses online; I’ve previously noted Lenny Susskind’s GR course. But, being largely beyond my course-taking days myself, I haven’t really kept track. Feel free to suggest your favorites in the comments.

  1. The best lecture series I have come across are R Shankar’s two: 1. on classical mechanics. 2. on Electromagnetism. He has a dry wit and breadth of knowledge that makes his lectures truly excellent. Note, I believe that his second lecture series on electromagnetism is based on David Griffith’s book. (both lecture series are at introductory undergraduate level).

    To see the lectures visit http://oyc.yale.edu/physics

  2. I’ve actually been doing a surprising amount of real-world hands-on quantum mechanics of late…I’m trying to figure out a spectrographic approach to creating ICC color profiles for digital cameras, which means a lot of futzing around with diffraction gratings and lasers and emission spectra and that sort of thing.

    Just for kicks, I’m planning on playing around with the double slit experiment. From what I’ve read, if you put a dense enough optical filter in the path of a green laser pointer, you can get the output down to the range of several photons per second…and that a suitably dark-adapted human eye can actually see those individual photons. If so, I’m really looking forward to directly observing both the diffraction and the lack of diffraction when the one sit is “measured.”

    I hope the MIT lecture series at least has instructions for a lab component, if not actual labs you can follow along with at home!


  3. I second Susskind’s lectures.

    Maybe anyone reading this post will have no need of this, but MIT’s courses on differential equations by Arthur Mattuck (http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/mathematics/18-03-differential-equations-spring-2010/video-lectures/) and linear algebra by Gilbert Strang (http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/mathematics/18-06-linear-algebra-spring-2010/video-lectures/) are excellent. Mattuck is the only teacher about which I’ve taken courses just because he was teaching them.

    I’ve only watched a few of V. Balakrishnan’s lectures on classical physics (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0D9B7186DF0969B0) but the ones that I did watch were outstanding.

    The latest series that I really enjoyed was Dick Gross’s Harvard course on Abstract Algebra (http://www.extension.harvard.edu/open-learning-initiative/abstract-algebra). This material can be pretty dry but he makes it really exciting, if you can believe that.

  4. Thanks for the link to that MIT course. It sounds perfect for me.

    I just finished a course from Coursera.org called Exploring Quantum Mechanics. It’s a bit more advanced than the MIT one as they say it’s aimed at “advanced undergraduate/beginning graduate students.” In other words, it was over my head. But other people on this blog may be interested.

  5. @Ben Goren: 15 years ago Kodak was supporting work at the Munsell Color Science Lab at RIT pursuing (among other things) spectrographic approaches to generating ICC color profiles. When I took the MCSL summer series about that time, the problem hadn’t been solved in closed form. The research I saw primarily focused on printers and inks, but parallel work was being done for sensors.

    The primary sensor-related issue (IIRC) was repeatability, but imaging sensors were still evolving rapidly (CMOS sensors were just becoming competitive with CCDs in the consumer market), so the repeatability problem may be more approachable today.

    Getting enough monochromatic light to get a good response from the imager was also an issue at the time (to get well above the noise floor), and I believe Kodak worked with UT Austin to develop a continuously tunable narrow-band high-intensity light source to attack that problem (these days, I’d use a suitable array of well-characterized LEDs: Cree sells them binned in 10nm steps, for a price).

    When I was part of a team developing a 100,000 fps camera around a custom CMOS sensor (not cooled!), we avoided color correction issues by paying particular attention to the filters used in the Bayer array, and to the design and fabrication of the microlens array. We tested naked sensors, then did tiny runs permuting the filter and lens options. We developed and patented a technique that preserved QE (to support high-speed) while also obtaining great color response.

    It may be easier to develop a profile from first principles, based on the sensor structure, the filter characteristics, and the light path characteristics (especially for front-illuminated sensors and/or tiny pixels). We had great success with that approach.

    Unfortunately,the development costs for that camera far exceeded the market for it, and the company promptly disappeared into an historical footnote.

  6. Bob,

    The RIT Munsell lab is still the bestest of the best in the field, best I know. And Dr. Berns answers his email. Their focus is more on multi-spectral imaging these days, I think — either directly or indirectly using more than just red, green, and blue color channels to record image data. They’re also doing great stuff with hyperspectral imaging, pushing into UV and IR especially for art analysis and restoration.

    The monochromator method you describe is essentially the same as what Iliah Borg uses with great success, and my own project started out as an attempt to replicate it. But I’m chasing down a side spur that I’m pretty sure will be much simpler and easier and produce significantly better results. Indeed, if the gods smile upon me, I may well clear the last hurdle today, with a large part of that hurdle having to do with being able to measure the efficiency of a diffraction grating.

    If the gods are, indeed, smiling upon me, then the result will be something that will let you build maximal quality ICC profiles using the graphic arts spectrophotometer (such as an i1 Pro or ColorMunki) you should already have if color is critical and about $10 in other stuff. If the gods smile. And, if the gods are really smiling, I have some other ideas for how to use a camera, perhaps even a cell phone camera, to replace even the spectrophotometer…but that’s another project….



  7. Online lectures are a great modern addition to public resources for learning, back in the day in the UK you’d need to set your video recorder for those after-hours Open University broadcasts. There is a huge amount available now, on demand – difficult to assign quality ratings as different styles of delivery appeal: try some of these 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

    Wonderful times for inquisitive people (young and old)

  8. Leonard Susskind’s video courses can be found at theoreticalminimum.com, which include classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, special relativity, general relativity, cosmology and statistical mechanics; these are his core courses. Other supplemental courses include advanced QM and particle physics among others. Each course is 10 lectures about 1.5 hours each. I recently watched quantum mechanics, which is the basis of his just published book “Quantum Mechanics — The Theoretical Minimum.” The course has a very clear discussion of entanglement. The courses are for the mathematically literate (e.g., the QM course requires some calculus and linear algebra).

  9. The first lecture in this series is the best intro to QM that I have seen.

  10. from mit:

    ‘The pilot-wave dynamics of walking droplets’

    What waves in a double slit experiment is the dark matter.

    ‘What If There’s a Way to Explain Quantum Physics Without the Probabilistic Weirdness?’

    “Known as “pilot wave theory” this line of thinking goes that, rather than electrons and other things being both quasi-particles and quasi-waves, the electron is a discrete particle that is being carried along by a separate wave. What this wave is made of no one knows.”

    ‘Redefining Dark Matter – Wave Instead Of Particle’

    “Tom Broadhurst, an Ikerbasque researcher at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), explains that, “guided by the initial simulations of the formation of galaxies in this context, we have reinterpreted cold dark matter as a Bose-Einstein condensate”. So, “the ultra-light bosons forming the condensate share the same quantum wave function, so disturbance patterns are formed on astronomic scales in the form of large-scale waves”.”

    “This opens up the possibility that dark matter could be regarded as a very cold quantum fluid”