Is it a particle? Is it a wave? It’s both – when we talk about either an electron or light. Electrons can behave like waves when they are scattered by an ordered array of atoms in a crystal. The photoelectric effect can only be explained if light can also behave like particles, called photons. Quantum mechanics explains these phenomena and is the fundamental description of how matter behaves at very short distances. Hence, it contains the principles needed to understand fields from solid state physics to electronics and biology. It explains many properties of atoms, such as chemical bonds and how the periodic table of elements works. In the first course of the cluster, students will learn some of the basic principles behind the experiments in the second course.

Core Course: Computations of Quantum Phenomena

The basic equations of quantum mechanics involve quite sophisticated mathematics. Fortunately, they can also be solved with some fairly simple computer programs. This portion of the cluster will begin with an introduction to the elements of programming in C which are needed to do quantum mechanics on a computer. (No previous programming experience will be assumed.) Along the way we will also learn the Linux operating system. By the end of the month, each student will write programs that illustrate how an electron's location involves a probability of being at a range of positions, rather than a precise value. Using the computer, students will calculate the spreading of the range of positions as time passes. They will also be able to compute the energy levels of some simple quantum mechanical systems.

Core Course : Quantum Physics Experiments and Applications to Nanotechnology

Each student will learn basic electronics to do quantum physics experiments. Students will use modern scientific instruments to measure the speed of electromagnetic pulses on a cable and also the energies corresponding to the band gaps for light-emitting diodes (LEDs) of different colors. (The inventors of blue LEDs won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics.) For the final project, small groups of students will work together to construct several scanning tunneling microscopes (STMs). An STM is an instrument that uses quantum mechanical tunneling to make images of individual atoms on the surface of a conducting solid. Students will use a small computer programmed in C to control their experimental apparatus in real-time. In addition, quantum mechanical ideas will be used to explain phenomena such as properties of crystalline solids, how lasers work, and how to detect single photons. A demonstration will show that double slit interference of visible light continues to occur even when the flux of photons decreases to the single photon level in a light-tight tube. Several distinguished faculty will give guest lectures connecting quantum mechanical ideas to their current research on nanotechnology and nanomaterials.