- Why We Should Rethink Quantum Instruction

The way we teach quantum mechanics is over 70 years old. It is heavily influenced by the course given by Robert Oppenheimer at Berkeley, which became the basis for the (hugely popular and influential) Schiff (1949) and Bohm (1951) textbooks. It was also influenced heavily by the third edition (1947) of Paul Dirac's quantum mechanics textbook. Back then, quantum mechanics was an advanced graduate class, and students were well-versed in differential equations, so using a differential-equation based, coordinate-space approach made sense. Since then, the time at which quantum mechanics is introduced to students has moved to the second year modern physics class. We now typically teach it three times, essentially the same way each time, and in many cases the students still don't really understand it when they have finished seeing it. It is often said that the sign of insanity is repeating something more than once and expecting a different result. Is our teaching of quantum mechanics insane?

I believe some of the reasons why we have become complacent is due to a lack of options for how to teach quantum mechanics. Just look at any of the scores of recently written textbooks. They all have nearly identical content, and it is hard to differentiate between which is an undergraduate and which is a graduate text, without reading the preface. You know a field is stale when a simple reordering of topics (as in the spins first movement) is viewed as a revolutionary change. Are there other options? There are! In our work, we focus on two main areas. One is to work with the material in a representation-independent fashion, focusing on operators, which we colloquially call operator mechanics (to differentiate it from matrix mechanics and wave mechanics). This way of working with quantum material has its origin with Pauli's solution of hydrogen in 1925 and with the abstract approach of Dirac from that time as well. It became firmly developed by Schrödinger in 1940, with the invention of his factorization method. Working with this material allows us to solve all of the same problems that are normally covered (often many more can now be covered). The second is based on Schrödinger's original solution of the hydrogen atom, which employed the Laplace method to solve the differential equation via contour integrals in the complex plane. Teaching this material at the graduate level offers students the opportunity to learn how to use ideas from complex analysis in their physics problem solving (indeed, Dirac advocated for this approach in 1937). Both the development of operator sense and the ability to work with ideas from complex analysis helps students who move into many-body physics or field theory. We owe it to our students to rethink how we teach quantum mechanics. Come join us in developing these new ideas!

To see how these ideas are developed, browse through the website using the above tabs and visit the blog. You can briefly learn more about other projects by expanding the sections below. You are guaranteed to learn something new! You may even be influenced to make changes in how you teach the material.

+ Teaching Quantum Mechanics to the General Public
+ Teaching Undergraduates
+ Teaching Graduate Students
+ Research on Quantum Mechanics Pedagogy
+ Research with Citizen Scientists
+ Engagement on Quora