Physics Curriculum
September 22, 2004 9:55 PM   Subscribe

PhysicsFilter: Some years ago, I heard of an undergraduate curriculum that introduced physics at the quantum level using linear algebra and that did not reach classical mechanics until late in the second semester. From an educational perspective, this method is supposedly more intuitive. What textbooks employ this teaching method?
posted by mischief to Education (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
*waits eagerly for answer*
posted by Gyan at 10:12 PM on September 22, 2004

It sounds to me like you might be thinking of The Feynman Lectures On Physics. Though I'm going on my recollection of his biography rather than first hand knowledge.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:58 PM on September 22, 2004

Not the Feynman lectures. I have them right next to me and the contents of the 1st vol. start with a general description of physics, then conservation of energy, then Newtonian dynamics,Relativity...etc. It doesn't start at the quantum level.
posted by Gyan at 11:04 PM on September 22, 2004

I have a few things to say.

First, classical and quantum are usually taught from different textbooks. (Feynman being an exception since he covered a wide range of stuff)

Second, classical is not necessarily a prerequisite to basic quantum although an understanding of EM (Electricity and Magnetism is really really helpful)

Third, my curriculum (leaving a lot out) as a physics undergrad was as follows:
Freshman: Special Relativity first semester, EM and Optics second semester
Sophomore: Quantum Mechanics (first semester), Classical Mechanics (second semester)
*still shivers at any mention of Goldstein*
Junior: Advanced Quantum and Field Theories etc.

Sure, they assumed we came in with a basic understanding of mechanics but it was all really not necessary for the quantum stuff. As you can see, they thought it more important to get the grounding in EM.

Finally, you are also talking about the Matrix Mechanics formulation which I found more fun to work with than the wave equations.
posted by vacapinta at 11:14 PM on September 22, 2004

It's not in the Feynmann lectures but he does explore quantum principles through linear algebra in Q.E.D.

There may be a specific course at a specific university but they're probably derived from this.
posted by substrate at 4:55 AM on September 23, 2004

From a shoddy memory he explains why mirrors reflect and how come bubbles are irridescent and appear to be absolutely transparent in spots through linear constructions and imaginary clockhands that rotate as they progress down imaginary lines. It's very intuitive.
posted by substrate at 4:57 AM on September 23, 2004

Sophomore: Quantum Mechanics (first semester), Classical Mechanics (second semester)
*still shivers at any mention of Goldstein*

Good lord, man, you were forced to use Goldstein as a sophomore? You have my deepest, deepest condolences. :::hugs his copy of Marion & Thornton:::

But yeah, the original question is ill-posed. If you're actually taking "physics for physicists", you'll use different textbooks for each course, even in the first-year courses. So if you wanted to teach this curriculum, you would find a suitable quantum book and teach out of that, then you would find a suitable mechanics book and teach out of that.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:06 AM on September 23, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks, vacapinta, matrix mechanics is the phrase I need.

My details are fuzzy because my reference was a paragraph in a cognitive science journal I read at Georgia Tech about 5 years ago.

Side note: googling 'matrix mechanics', at least 3 of the first 5 entries appear to rip off wikipedia word-for-word.
posted by mischief at 8:03 AM on September 23, 2004

Throwing in bra-ket in the search helps return more relevant results. (Avoids geeky undergrad physics humor about removing bras)
posted by vacapinta at 11:07 AM on September 23, 2004

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