Physics 008: The Quantum World Around Us
Interdisciplinary Studies 015: Science and Society Seminar---The Quantum World Around Us
(Spring 2007)

TTh 11:40-12:55, 502 Reiss

Prof. Jim Freericks

Office: 552 Reiss
Office Hours: T Th 1:00-1:30 and W 1:00-2:00, or by appointment.
freericks at physics dot georgetown dot edu
Telephone: (202) 687-6159

Teaching Assistant

Course Description

Why can we see through glass but not steel?
If all matter is mostly empty space, what prevents me from putting my hand through the wall?
What's so special about laser light?
What is a semiconductor, and why is it useful for computers?
What is an MRI?

The answers to these questions lie in the quantum nature of matter.

In this course, we discuss the seemingly bizarre principles of quantum physics and explore how they affect us in our daily lives. A simple model, developed by Richard Feynman, is used to introduce fundamental quantum concepts without relying on sophisticated mathematics. The quantum-mechanical nature of materials such as metals, insulators, semiconductors, superconductors, and magnets is discussed. Additional topics include technological applications such as magnetic-resonance imaging, tunneling microscopes, and lasers.

This course satisfies the Math/Science requirement for A.B. candidates in the College.

View this syllabus at

Creators of Quantum Mechanics

Planck Einstein Bohr Schroedinger Heisenberg Pauli Dirac

Some Advice

Four different texts are used in this course: Styer's The Strange World of Quantum Mechanics; Feynman's QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter; Hey and Walters's The New Quantum Universe; and selected readings from Scientific American. You are expected to complete the reading assignments before coming to class. It is critical that you attend class. Physics is a subject that builds on itself; do not let yourself fall behind. In addition to eight (roughly) bi-weekly homework assignments, you will write two papers, one based on Tom Stoppard's play Hapgood and one based on an article of your choice from Scientific American. There will also be a midterm (Thursday, March 1, 10:15-11:30 am) and a final exam (Saturday, May 5, 4-6 pm). Your final course grade will be based on a weighted average of all assignments and exams.

Seven times in the semester, we will break the lecture format with a tutorial. During the tutorial sessions, you will work in small groups on worksheets that focus on important concepts and models. The instructors will not directly answer your questions, rather they will help you and your fellow students to reason out the answers yourselves.

Don't become discouraged if you find some of the material difficult, frustrating, or confusing---this is common when you are struggling to understand abstract and strange phenomena. Stick with it, and you will be rewarded with an ability to understand secrets of nature that are known to only a small minority of people!

You may find some interesting supplemental material for the course in the list of suggested supplemental reading and the list of interesting quantum-mechanical web sites.

All class handouts will be available in pdf format from this website. The website will be updated during the semester as we generate new handouts.


Homework Schedule

Paper Assignments

Grading Policy

Extra Credit

Supplementary Reading

Interesting quantum-mechanical web sites

Acknowledgments: This course was developed jointly with Prof. Amy Liu. We thank Prof. Daniel Styer from Oberlin College for sharing with us his notes for a similar course that he designed. We especially would like to thank Edwin Taylor Emeritus of MIT for providing us with the computer animations used in the course.

A brief description of this course has appeared in The Changing Role of Physics Departments in Modern Universities: Proceedings of International Conference on Undergraduate Physics Education, edited by E. F. Redish and J. S. Rigden (AIP, Woodbury, NY, 1997), p. 780--781. (Postcript version of paper.)

Last modified January 10, 2007

Jim Freericks, Professor of Physics,