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The quantum world

If you're interested in the fundamental laws of modern physics and how mathematics is used to state and apply these laws, this module is for you. It surveys the physical principles, mathematical techniques and interpretation of quantum theory. The Schrödinger equation, the uncertainty principle, the exclusion principle, fermions and bosons, measurement probabilities, entanglement, perturbation theory and transition rates are all discussed. Applications include atoms, molecules, nuclei, solids, scanning tunnelling microscopy and quantum cryptography. The module also presents recent evidence relating to some of the most surprising and non-classical predictions of quantum mechanics.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module

Module code
SM358
Credits
30
Study level
OU SCQF FHEQ
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Am I ready?

Student Reviews

The course content and course books are very good; well-written, clear and interesting. Assessment isn't onerous - relatively short TMAs...
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We are very pleased that the course content, books and assessment are well-received. It is very helpful to have comments...
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Absolutely fascinating course. Found it challenging, but not impossible and extremely interesting. One of the best courses I have ever...
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What you will study

Quantum mechanics is famous for challenging our intuitive view of the world. However, it does not simply frustrate classical mechanics: it replaces it by a clear and precise formalism and a set of principles that allow exact calculations to be made. This puts the subject in a unique position. Whilst it challenges our intuitions, it provides the concepts and quantitative predictions needed by applied physicists, chemists and technologists who wish to interpret and control phenomena on the nanoscale and below.

This module will give you a detailed understanding of the physical principles and mathematical techniques of quantum mechanics. Building on this understanding, you’ll learn about the interpretation of quantum mechanics in the light of recent experiments and discover how quantum mechanics is used to explain the behaviour of physical systems, from nuclei and atoms to molecules and solids.

The study materials include three books, accompanied by DVD-ROMs containing computer-based activities and video materials.

Book 1, Wave Mechanics, begins with a wide-ranging introduction to the quantum revolution. It then develops Schrödinger’s equation, together with the concepts of wave functions, expectation values and uncertainties. Schrödinger’s equation is solved for simple model systems such as particles in boxes and harmonic oscillators. You will also learn how the equation can be used in various applications including quantum dots and vibrating molecules. The concept of a wavepacket is introduced and used to describe the classical limit of quantum mechanics. Finally, the quantum processes of tunneling, barrier penetration and reflection are discussed, together with their application to nuclear fusion, alpha decay, and the scanning tunneling microscope. The mathematical techniques used and developed in this book include complex numbers, separation of variables, integration, differential equations and eigenvalues.

Book 2, Quantum mechanics and its interpretation, gives a more general discussion of quantum mechanical principles. It shows how quantum states can be represented by vectors in a vector space, with observable quantities represented by operators acting on the vectors. This formalism is used to derive quantum mechanical conservation laws and to provide a proof of the uncertainty principle. The properties of orbital and spin angular momentum are introduced and the extraordinary properties of systems of identical particles, including Bose-Einstein condensation, are explored. The book then discusses some fascinating topics in the interpretation of quantum mechanics, supported by the results of recent experiments. The process of measurement in quantum mechanics cannot be described by Schrödinger’s equation and appears to involve chance in an unavoidable way. The book ends by discussing the concept of entanglement, and its applications to quantum encryption and quantum teleportation. The mathematical techniques used and developed in this book include vector spaces, Hermitian operators and matrix algebra.

Book 3, The Quantum Mechanics of Matter shows how quantum mechanical methods are used to explain the behaviour of matter, from the scale of nuclei and atoms to molecules and solids. The hydrogen atom is discussed in detail, as well as hydrogen-like systems such as positronium. The useful technique of perturbation theory is developed to obtain approximate results in cases where exact calculations become difficult. The book goes on to discuss multi-electron atoms and the Periodic Table, molecular binding and the behaviour of electrons in the energy bands of metals, insulators and semiconductors. Finally, the book considers the interaction of matter with light. You will see how quantum mechanics can predict the lifetimes of atomic states and the brightness of spectral lines.

You will learn

In this module, you will learn the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics and the mathematical techniques needed to state and apply them. You will explore the interpretation of quantum mechanics and critically evaluate the extent to which quantum mechanics has been tested by experiment. You will also see how quantum mechanical methods are used to model phenomena in physical systems including atoms, molecules and solids.

Professional recognition

This module, when studied as part of an honours degree in the physical sciences or engineering, can help you gain membership of the Institute of Physics (IOP). For further information about the IOP, visit their website.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. There will be a number of online tutorials that you can join and access via your computer. You are encouraged, but not obliged, to participate in these. You will also be able to participate in discussions through online forums. 

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with the OU before you register.

Assessment

The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

You will, however, be granted the option of submitting on paper if typesetting electronically or merging scanned images of your answers to produce an electronic TMA would take you an unacceptably long time.

There will be a mixture of online interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs) and short tutor-marked assignments (TMAs), with a total workload equivalent of three full TMAs.

Both the iCMAs and TMAs will focus strongly on learning through practice rather than on assessment. The feedback you receive on your answers will help you to improve your knowledge and understanding of the study material and to develop important skills associated with the module. The feedback on the iCMAs will be instantaneous and hints will be given so that you can refine any incorrect answers. Although your scores on all these assignments will not contribute directly to your module grade, they form an essential part of the learning process and you will be required to submit a proportion of them to complete the module. You will be given detailed information when you start the module.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2014. We expect it to be available once a year.

Regulations

As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
6 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
Examination
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


Entry

This is an OU level 3 module that builds on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at OU levels 1 and 2. It is intended for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject at this level.

The module is designed to follow Mathematical methods (MST224) and The physical world (S207). You would find it very difficult to study SM358 without the necessary mathematical background. The parts of MST224 relating to ordinary and partial differential equations, matrices and angular momentum are especially important. S207 is the ideal physics module to prepare you for studying SM358, particularly the parts relating to classical and quantum mechanics. Students are most successful if they have acquired their prerequisite knowledge through passing these two OU level 2 modules.

It is essential that you establish whether or not your background and experience give you a sound basis on which to tackle SM358. The Science Faculty has produced a booklet Are You Ready For SM358? To help you decide whether you already have the recommended background knowledge and experience to start the module or whether you need some extra preparation. This can be viewed or printed from the Science Faculty website.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Register

Start End England fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015 -

Registration now closed

The deadline for financial support applications has now passed

03 Oct 2015 Jun 2016 Not yet available

Registration opens on 12/03/15

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in 10 OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. You may, for example wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser.


Note: Your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is based upon current details for  year 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015.
This information was provided on 01/10/2014.

What's included

Module books, other printed materials, DVD-ROMs, website.

You will need

Basic scientific calculator.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module. It includes online activities – you can access using a web browser – and some module software provided on disk.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer running Windows since 2008 you should have no problems completing the computer-based activities.
  • A netbook, tablet or other mobile device is not suitable for this module – check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you have an Apple Mac or Linux computer – please note that you can only use it for this module by running Windows on it using Boot Camp or a similar dual-boot system.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information (including details of the support we provide).

If you have a disability

The module contains a large number of detailed equations. If you have severely impaired sight, you might find these aspects of the module challenging. It also contains coloured diagrams and uses computer software. The books are available in a comb-bound format.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.