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Understanding the Quantum World

Open your mind and broaden your scientific horizons as you discover the quantum world is more accessible than you ever imagined.
Understanding the Quantum World is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 161.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good lecturer, nice tone Enjoyed lecture and learned a lot. Some of it I didn't follow, weird world with them thar little quantums. Liked the lecturer she did a great job. Whats with the same pants suit?
Date published: 2024-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from GREAT Presentation, Lecturer, Analogies & Examples The analogies that start in the beginning and work themselves through this course are amazing. Tieing up so many loose ends for me without the mathematics helped me understand wave particle duality (and technically it being no particle). The professor tied up the Heisenberg Uncertainty Equations where they made perfect sense. I love the dive into Chemistry to show ideas about electrons. The other course here on Quantum focused too much on the Many-Worlds-Theory (which I think is bunk). This professor sticks to known facts and mysteries instead of philosophy. Two thumbs up!
Date published: 2024-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect level for non-scientists I am not a scientist or physics although I have taken physics classes. I am fascinated by scientific leaning. This lecture series was prefect for me. I enjoyed it very much and learned a lot.
Date published: 2024-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly worth the time My first exposure to quantum theory was as an undergraduate engineering student fifty years ago. The professors were still trying to figure out how to teach a subject that has a lot that is counterintuitive without burying any but the students of theoretical physics in formulae. Dr. Carlson has captured most of that magic in this course. It's full of the concepts without too much in the way of proofs. There is a lot of related material available on You Tube. This course gives context to all of that.
Date published: 2023-11-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Bored out of my mind The backdrop is truly awful and is in fact a distraction. She seems like a nice enough person and is a pretty good explainer. I'm on chapter 3 and I'm struggling to stay with this. It's not at all complicated. It's the super dull analogies that seem to drag on. "So yes you can sit in three chairs at once in a theater." WHAT? I'm slogging through this because I assume sooner or later it will get interesting as it gets more in depth. Don't take my word for that though. There are much better explanations on amateur YouTube channels, at least of what I've seen so far. Amazingly, the graphics on those YouTube channels are drastically better!
Date published: 2023-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly recommended The topics are interesting although it could become boring for 30 minutes. Overall, quantum mechanics ideas discussed makes this course highly recommended. Just buy. I wish more videos on this topic.
Date published: 2023-02-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Explainations that can be understood Phase and standing waves seems a more realistic way to characterize how an atom manifests itself in Quanta Mechanics because it IS an EVENT as opposed a fixed picture.
Date published: 2023-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from LInus Pauling would have smiled It is hard to find clarity in most introductions to QM. Dr Carlson's series, in my view, is thus far the best introduction to QM that you can recommend to someone that wants a initial understanding that is it true with respect to the deeper structure of current theory. Unlike most, she has been very careful in the use of analogies to try and not distort the implications that one can draw from the analogies. She is very forthright in making clear that in general she is presenting QM from the standpoint of the Modified Copenhagen interpretation, while noting the other major interpretations of worth currently in play. One of the things that makes this series a good introduction to the subject is the in the later part of the course which discusses applications & impacts on the world we witness at the macroscopic level. Dr. Carlson also includes something that is a bit unique and that is the extension of QM to what is called Quantum Chemistry, the nature of hybridization and chemical bonding based on the orbitals that emerge from QM. This section includes lovely dynamics visualizations. For most QM intro's this subject is a 'throw away" just saying, in effect, "all of chemistry comes from this orbital stuff." This is why I said "Linus Pauling would have smiled.
Date published: 2022-11-19
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Quantum theory baffles even physicists, but it also gives them unprecedented insight into nature-and it can do the same for you, once you understand the fundamentals. Open your mind and broaden your scientific horizons with this 24-lecture course on the quantum world.


Erica W. Carlson

The science that has illuminated the mysteries of the quantum world can also help us see our everyday world in a brand new way.


Purdue University

Erica W. Carlson is a 150th Anniversary Professor and Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Purdue University. She holds a BS in Physics from the California Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). A theoretical physicist, she researches electronic phase transitions in quantum materials. Widely recognized for her teaching and research, Professor Carlson received the prestigious Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and she was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society. At UCLA, she won the teaching associate award from the Department of Physics and Astronomy. At Purdue, her honors include the university’s highest teaching prize, the Charles B. Murphy Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award, as well as the Ruth and Joel Spira Award for Excellence in Teaching (three times), and the College of Science Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Teaching by an Assistant Professor. Professor Carlson has published dozens of research articles in peer-reviewed journals. She has also presented papers at many conferences and been invited to present talks worldwide, on four continents. Her early experiments with podcasting college science courses were featured on the front page of the Chicago Tribune. She is active in outreach, having given science presentations to the public and to students from preschool through high school.

By This Professor

Understanding the Quantum World
Understanding the Quantum World


Particle-Wave Duality

01: Particle-Wave Duality

Begin your journey into the quantum world by focusing on one of its most baffling features: the behavior of quantum entities as both particles and waves. Following her approach of presenting analogies over equations, Professor Carlson gives a handy way of visualizing this paradox. Then she takes you further into quantum weirdness by using a slinky to show how waves can be quantized.

25 min
Particles, Waves, and Interference Patterns

02: Particles, Waves, and Interference Patterns

Investigate one of the most famous demonstrations in physics: the double-slit experiment. See how electrons behave as both particles and waves when passing through two parallel slits in a plate and then striking a screen. Bizarrely, the wave properties disappear when the electrons are monitored as they pass through each slit, showing our inability to have complete information of a quantum state.

26 min
Observers Disturb What They Measure

03: Observers Disturb What They Measure

Consider what life would be like if quantum effects held at our everyday scale. For instance, there would be no trouble sitting in three chairs at once! Learn what happens when a particle in such a mixed state is forced by measurement to assume a definite position—a situation known as wave function collapse. This leads to the important quantum principle that observers disturb what they measure.

27 min
Bell’s Theorem and Schrödinger’s Cat

04: Bell’s Theorem and Schrödinger’s Cat

Ponder two celebrated and thought-provoking responses to the apparent incompatibility of quantum mechanics and classical physics. Bell’s theorem shows that attempts to reconcile the two systems are futile in a certain class of theories. Next, Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment implying that a cat could be both dead and alive if the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics holds.

28 min
Quantum Paradoxes and Interpretations

05: Quantum Paradoxes and Interpretations

Review the major theories proposed by physicists trying to make sense of the paradoxes of the quantum world. Look at the Copenhagen interpretation, Einstein’s realist view, the many worlds interpretation, quantum Bayesianism, non-local hidden variables, and other creative attempts to explain what is going on in a realm that seems to be governed by probability alone.

32 min
The Position-Momentum Uncertainty Relation

06: The Position-Momentum Uncertainty Relation

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle sets a fundamental limit on how much we can know about an object's position and momentum at the same time. Professor Carlson introduces this simple equation, showing how it explains why atoms have structure and come in the diverse forms of the periodic table of elements. Surprisingly, the stability of our everyday world rests on uncertainty at the quantum level.

30 min
Wave Quantization

07: Wave Quantization

Electrons don't just orbit the nucleus—they simultaneously exist as standing waves. Go deeper into what standing wave modes look like in one, two, and three dimensions, discovering that these shapes explain the quantization of energy states in an atom. As usual, Professor Carlson introduces useful analogies, including the standing waves produced in a vibrating drum head.

32 min
Quantum Wave Shapes and the Periodic Table

08: Quantum Wave Shapes and the Periodic Table

Focus on standing waves of electrons around nuclei, seeing how the periodic table of elements results from what electrons do naturally: fall into the lowest energy state given the total electric charge, existing electron population, and other features of an atom. Learn the Pauli exclusion principle and a handy mnemonic for remembering the terminology for atomic orbitals, such as 1s, 2p, 3d, etc.

30 min
Interference of Waves and Sloshing States

09: Interference of Waves and Sloshing States

Watch what happens when electrons are put into wave forms that differ from standing waves. Your goal is to understand why some of these superposition states are unstable. Professor Carlson notes that the sloshing of an electron back and forth in an unstable state causes it to act like an antenna, radiating away energy until it falls to a lower energy level.

29 min
Wave Shapes in Diamond and Graphene

10: Wave Shapes in Diamond and Graphene

What accounts for the dramatic difference between diamond and graphene (a sheet of graphite one atom thick), both of which are composed of pure carbon? Study the role of electrons in molecular bonds, applying your knowledge of electron standing waves. In carbon, such waves make possible several types of bonds, which in diamond and graphene result in remarkably different physical properties.

30 min
Harmonic Oscillators

11: Harmonic Oscillators

A clock pendulum is an example of a classical harmonic oscillator. Extend this concept to the atomic realm to see how quantum waves behave like harmonic oscillators. Then learn how quantum physics was born at the turn of the 20th century in Max Planck’s solution to a paradox in the classical picture of oscillating atoms. His conclusion was that the energies of oscillation had to be quantized.

32 min
The Energy-Time Uncertainty Relation

12: The Energy-Time Uncertainty Relation

Return to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle from Lecture 6 to see how quantum uncertainty also extends to energy and time. This has a startling implication for energy conservation, suggesting that short-lived “virtual” particles can pop into existence out of nothing—as long as they don’t stay around for long. Consider evidence for this phenomenon in the Lamb shift and Casimir effect.

29 min
Quantum Angular Momentum and Electron Spin

13: Quantum Angular Momentum and Electron Spin

Continue your investigation of the counterintuitive quantum world by contrasting angular momentum for planets and other classical objects with analogous phenomena in quantum particles. Cover the celebrated Stern–Gerlach experiment, which in the 1920s showed that spin is quantized for atoms and can only take on a very limited number of discrete values.

31 min
Quantum Orbital Angular Momentum

14: Quantum Orbital Angular Momentum

Having covered electron spin in the previous lecture, now turn to orbital angular momentum. Again, a phenomenon familiar in classical physics relating to planets has an analogue in the quantum domain—although with profound differences. This leads to a discussion of permanent magnets, which Professor Carlson calls “a piece of quantum physics that you can hold in your hand.”

33 min
Quantum Properties of Light

15: Quantum Properties of Light

Among Einstein’s insights was that light comes in discrete packets of energy called photons. Explore the photoelectric effect, which prompted Einstein’s discovery. See a do-it-yourself project that demonstrates the photoelectric effect. Close by surveying applications of the quantum theory of light to phenomena such as lasers, fluorescent dyes, photosynthesis, and vitamin D production in skin.

36 min
Atomic Transitions and Photons

16: Atomic Transitions and Photons

Dive deeper into the interactions of light with matter. Starting with a hydrogen atom, examine the changes in energy and angular momentum when an electron transitions from one orbital to another. See how the diverse possibilities create a “fingerprint” specific to every type of atom, and how this is the basis for spectroscopy, which can determine the composition of stars by analyzing their light.

28 min
Atomic Clocks and GPS

17: Atomic Clocks and GPS

Peer into the structure of a cesium atom to see what makes it ideal for measuring the length of a second and serving as the basis for atomic clocks. Then head into space to learn how GPS satellites use atomic clocks to triangulate positions on the ground. Finally, delve into Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity to understand the corrections that GPS must make to stay accurate.

29 min
Quantum Mechanics and Color Vision

18: Quantum Mechanics and Color Vision

Probe the quantum events that underlie color vision, discovering the role of the retinal molecule in detecting different frequencies of photons as they strike cone cells in the eye’s retina. Also investigate the source of color blindness, most common in men, as well as its inverse, tetrachromacy, which is the ability to see an extra channel of color information, possessed by some women.

29 min
A Quantum Explanation of Color

19: A Quantum Explanation of Color

Now turn to the sources of color in the world around us, from the yellow glow of sodium street lights to the brilliant red of a ruby pendant. Grasp the secret of the aurora, the difference between fluorescence and phosphorescence, and the reason neon dyes look brighter than their surroundings. It turns out that our entire experience of color is governed by the quantum world.

30 min
Quantum Tunneling

20: Quantum Tunneling

Anyone who makes use of a memory stick, a solid-state hard drive, or a smartphone relies on one of the most baffling aspects of the quantum world: quantum tunneling. Professor Carlson uses a roller coaster analogy, combined with your newly acquired insight into wave mechanics, to make this feat of quantum sorcery—the equivalent of walking through walls—perfectly logical.

32 min
Fermions and Bosons

21: Fermions and Bosons

Investigate why two pieces of matter cannot occupy the same space at the same time, reaching the conclusion that this is only true for fermions, which are particles with half-integer spin. The other class of particles, bosons, with integer spin, can be in the same place at the same time. Learn how this feature of bosons has been exploited in lasers and in superfluids such as liquid helium.

29 min
Spin Singlets, Entanglement, and the EPR Paradox

22: Spin Singlets, Entanglement, and the EPR Paradox

Study the most celebrated challenge to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics: the paradox proposed by Albert Einstein and his collaborators Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen—later updated by David Bohm. Is quantum mechanics an incomplete theory due to hidden variables that guide the outcome of quantum interactions? Examine this idea and the experiments designed to test it.

29 min
Quantum Mechanics and Metals

23: Quantum Mechanics and Metals

Analyze how metals conduct electricity, discovering that, in a sense, electrons “surf” from one metal atom to the next on a quantum mechanical wave. Probe the causes of electrical resistance and why metals can never be perfect conductors. Finally, use the Pauli exclusion principle to understand the optimum distribution of electrons in the different quantum states of metal atoms.

31 min

24: Superconductivity

Close with one of Professor Carlson’s favorite topics: superconductivity. As noted in Lecture 23, when electrons flow through a metal, they lose energy to resistance. But this is not true of superconductors, whose amazing properties trace to the difference between bosons and fermions. Learn how quantum stability allows superconductors to conduct electricity with zero resistance, then step back and summarize the high points of your quantum tour.

35 min