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Why Quantum, man?


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I am majoring in Electrical Engineering, but currently, my primary interests lie almost entirely in Physics topics like Quantum Mechanics, Quantum Optics and Quantum Computation. I am somewhat lucky in the sense that Quantum Optics is something that EE people also do, so I at least have some excuse for filling up a seat in the EE department. Many of my friends have asked me how I got interested in the world of Quantum. Some of my juniors have asked me how to identify a field which they find interesting, and I find it difficult to answer either of the two questions. So one day I got thinking about the course of events that led to me straying so far from my major curriculum to study Physics.

It definitely started from my school days, where I found Physics absolutely fascinating. It still seems so cool to me, that by using such simple Math (at school-level Physics anyway), so much could be concluded about so many varied systems in the world. Such non-trivial conclusions can be drawn from laws that are so easy to state. This love for Physics that infected me back in school has never died down. A big shout out here to all my teachers (my parents included), and some of the books that I studied in those days, for allowing this love to take hold. Some special books that come to mind have to be Halliday & Resnick, the Berkeley Physics course, Irodov’s fantastic problem book, and the Feynman Lectures on Physics. Also, the MIT Introductory Physics series by AP French is very very cool, especially the book on Newtonian Mechanics.

In college, however, the path didn’t remain so straightforward. There were Physics courses and labs in the course content for the first year, the professor, Dr Sudeep Bhattacharjee, encouraged us to study some off-course topics by ourselves. I dabbled a bit in variational calculus through the brachistochrone problem, and delved a bit deeper than that into non-linear dynamics, studying several cool things from a book by Strogatz. I also studied some differential equation techniques from 18.03 on MIT OCW, which was my first introduction to that wonderful resource.

In my second semester, I met Introduction to Electrodynamics by Griffiths, and it can only be described as love at first sight. The beauty that Griffiths puts into his explanations, the questions that are there in the book both mean that I now consider it to be the best textbook that I have had the opportunity to study so far in college.

In the same semester, however, we had a half-semester course on Quantum Chemistry. For two months the professor was supposed to come to the class, write down assumptions of the theory, explain what they meant, and jump straight to the conclusions, without explaining how to go from the assumptions to the results. Within 2-3 weeks, I had had enough. One fine day I sat at a computer and decided to see what OCW had to offer. That led me to the brilliant Prof Allan Adams and his course 8.04 on OCW. I was completely hooked, and over that semester, the following summer, and the first few weeks of the next semester completed the course and did all its assignments. I have not stopped doing Physics, and more specifically Quantum Physics, yet. I have now also done 80% of the second course, 8.05 by Prof Barton Zwiebach, audited a graduate level course on Quantum Optics, and am going to spend the next summer continuing Quantum Optics.

Oh, the irony of it all… I found my current topic of interest because I disliked a course. Cool thing to say to people who ask me why I do it :)