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Quantum physics

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This module will take you on a journey from the fundamental concepts of quantum physics through to contemporary applications in quantum systems and quantum computing. It will give you a thorough understanding of quantum mechanics’ core principles, formalisms, and mathematical techniques. Building on this understanding, you’ll discover how quantum mechanics is used to model and control the behaviour of complex physical systems, from atoms to molecules and lattices of atoms. Additionally, you’ll carry out experiments on entanglement and critically interpret your results using a quantum computer.

What you will study

Quantum physics (SM380) will teach you the core concepts of quantum physics, including:

  • the concepts of wave functions, expectation values and uncertainties
  • Schrödinger’s equation for simple model systems such as particles in boxes and harmonic oscillators
  • the quantum processes of tunnelling, barrier penetration and reflection
  • Dirac notation and how quantum states can be represented by vectors in a vector space, with observable quantities represented by operators acting on the vectors
  • the properties of orbital and spin angular momentum and the extraordinary properties of systems of identical particles
  • the hydrogen atom and useful techniques of approximation that will enable you to model a more complex system with the help of Python
  • fascinating concepts in the interpretation of quantum mechanics, like entanglement, superposition, and the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics.

This module focuses on problem-solving and the ability to reason clearly and to discuss complex ideas. It will enable you to confidently use the fundamental concepts and mathematical formalism to solve problems relating to simple quantum systems.

You’ll have a unique opportunity to carry out experiments on entanglement, developing distinctive and innovative skills and understanding of qubits and quantum logic operations – the building blocks of quantum computing.

You’ll learn to tackle problems relating to more complex quantum systems by using approximations and computational approaches.

Finally, you will see how quantum mechanical methods are used to understand the behaviour of matter, from the scale of nuclei and atoms to molecules and lattices.

By the end of your study, you’ll be able to critically discuss fundamental concepts in quantum mechanics (superposition and entanglement), basing the arguments on your own experimental data.

You will learn

You will learn:

  • the key ideas, concepts, fundamental principles and methods of quantum mechanics and its contemporary applications
  • to discuss the underlying concepts and interpretation of quantum phenomena at a graduate level
  • to describe quantum systems using appropriate-level mathematics
  • to simulate quantum systems using computing and purpose-written modelling tools
  • to use and apply the concepts, formalism and methods of core quantum mechanics to formulate and solve a range of problems, including unfamiliar ones
  • to make estimates and apply approximation methods to real systems, interpret the results and critically evaluate the extent to which these are applicable
  • to prepare, process, interpret and present data to communicate scientific information, arguments and ideas in quantum physics accurately and effectively using written, visual and numerical forms in a style that suits the purpose and audience
  • to obtain, record, collate and analyse data derived from investigations and interpret and report their significance considering underlying theory, practical issues and relevant information from other sources
  • to initiate, design, conduct and report on investigations that may involve the acquisition of data
  • to manage your own learning time and work independently
  • to engage effectively with feedback.

Entry requirements

SM380 has no formal entry requirements; however, it is an OU level 3 module. Therefore, you need a good knowledge of mathematics and physics, obtained through OU level 1 and 2 study or another higher education institution.

We recommend you have completed:

The parts of MST224 or MST210 relating to matrices, ordinary differential equations and partial differential equations, and the parts of S217 relating to classical and quantum mechanics are especially important.

We strongly recommend you check your background and experience are sufficient to tackle this module. We’ve found that appropriately prepared students have the best chance of completing their studies and get the most enjoyment from the module.

Are you ready for SM380?

Talk to an advisor if you’re not sure you’re ready.

What's included

The module uses a mix of two printed books and online material.

The study material is in units. Each includes content presented in the two books accompanied by online videos, interactive activities and Python-based and remote activities. On the module website, you’ll find clear guidance about navigating the different activities and presentation tools.

The spine of the module is the module website, which will direct you to printed books for the more fundamental content. The website will also include a week-by-week study planner.

Forums will be used for discussions of interesting points raised in the interpretation of data from the activities and for more general discussion.

Self-assessed questions in the module will feature to monitor progress.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS (11 'Big Sur' or higher).

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.

Assessment

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

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying SM380 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Quantum physics: fundamentals and applications (SM380) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2022.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2029.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
Examination
No residential school