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Quantum Physics: an overview of a weird world

A rigorous but soft approach for beginners on topics that you won't find elsewhere explained at introductory level.
4.7 (82 ratings)
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2,659 students enrolled
Created by Marco Masi
Last updated 11/2013
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A course on quantum physics for everyone, which will lead you by hand as clearly as possible from the abc of quantum mechanics to the most recent experiments and its philosophical implications. This course does not only introduce you to the basics of quantum theory, but covers also with a simple and non academic approach topics and several experiments that usually are discussed only among specialists. We review the standard concepts like the wave-particle duality, Heisenberg`s uncertainty principle, Schrödinger`s cat, the vacuum zero-point energy and virtual particles, among several others. Then we deepen the subject analysing quantum entanglement, the so called "EPR paradox" which question our naive understanding of the meaning of reality and locality, together with other effects and ground braking discoveries of the last century physics. Another, more advanced section, and that is usually not explained to the popular audience in an accurate but clear and understandable way, is what I call the "quantum philosophy experiments", like the "which way", "quantum erasure", "delayed choice", "interaction free" and "quantum teleportation" experiments.

This course is unique in the sense that, after delivering a historic introduction and the foundations, getting rid of typical popular misunderstandings, it discusses also several topics which go to the essence of the quantum phenomena, making it available for the first time in an easy understandable way to everyone. It is for those who always wanted to understand the principles of quantum physics, but are not physicist. Especially the part on quantum philosophy experiments may be interesting for physicists too who want to deepen the conceptual foundations and the philosophy of QM. For those who always have been attracted by the fascinating and weird quantum world, but found only advanced level university courses, or superficial popular science hypes where you couldn't discriminate between serious sensical and nonsensical stuff and between scientific and pseudo-scientific theories. For those who searched for a course that explains the basics of quantum mechanics, but that does not presuppose a technical preparation, and yet furnishes the most rigorous account as far an (almost) non mathematical exposition allows for.

By covering the basics of quantum theory, from its birth about a century ago until today's modern research, its aim is to deliver the material necessary so that you will be able by yourself to distinguish between mere speculative (and more or less extravagant) interpretations in fashion, and the real experimental facts.

Note: students from schools or colleges will get a free bonus. Send an email to from your school/department mail account and you will get the coupon.

Who is the target audience?
  • Everyone who is passionate about science and/or philosophy of science and is curious about the laws and the nature of the material universe.
  • The course is well suited for all those university students who do not have sufficient mathematical background to go through a high-level QM course, but would like to assimilate the basics of quantum physics for the purpose of additional research. For instance philosophers, historians of science or biologist.
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What Will I Learn?
If you dedicate 30-45 min. a day to the course, in a couple of weeks you will have learned the basic conceptual foundations that will enable you to understand what really quantum theory is about.
You will be able to distinguish between a pseudo-scientific quantum theory that comes and goes according to fashions on the media, and the real state of knowledge in physics.
You will learn how quantum theory was born, its development in the 20th century and what the present state of its conceptual foundation is.
You will be introduced in a simple manner to many more effects and new experiments which highlight the quantum reality, but that are usually not explained to the public.
View Curriculum
  • The course does not need any mathematical skills. In some lectures some simple mathematical expressions will be used, but they will also be explained appropriately in the simplest possible manner.
Curriculum For This Course
Expand All 39 Lectures Collapse All 39 Lectures 12:24:49
1 Lecture 05:30

A brief intro that makes it clear what this course is about.

Preview 05:30
Basics I - The birth and foundations of quantum mechanics
11 Lectures 03:53:52

The historical point of departure of quantum theory was Planck's derivation of the black body radiation which assumed energy to be quantized. Previously it was thought that energy is a continuous phenomenon. Its quantization was a conceptual revolution that can be compared to a sort of "Copernican revolution".

Preview 28:25

The photoelectric effect comes as a further validation of the fact that enery appears always quantized. Bohr, inspired by these results, advances his famous "planetary model" of the atom.
PS: Please note a msitake in the video. Niels Bohr was Danish, not Dutch!

The quantum confirmed I: the photoelectric effect and Bohr`s atom

Bohr's atom model seemed to receive experimental validation by Frank-Hertz's experiment which definitely demonstrated that atoms absorb energy in quantized amounts of energy. The Compton scattering of photons and pair production of matter and anti-matter particles showed that electromagnetic radiation has a corpuscular nature.

The quantum confirmed II: F-H exp., Compton scattering and pair production.

A brief introductory description on waves and the concept of interference. A concept of paramount importance to understand quantum mechanical phenomena.

Preview 09:00

Some mathematical aspects about waves, interference and complex numbers. This brief formal overview is necessary to understand QM, espcially from section III on.

Waves and interference - part II: some necessary math

Bragg diffraction and the de Broglie hypothesis pave the way for understanding better the wave-particle duality problem.

Waves strike back: Bragg diffraction and the de Broglie hypothesis

Are photons and electrons particles or waves? If they are both, when do they show upn as one or the other aspect? The wave-particle duality illustrated by Young's double slit experiment will shed some light on this.

Preview 23:37

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is explained and some of its frequent misinterpretations illustrated.

Heisenberg`s uncertainty principle

The concept of the wavefunction in quantum mechanics is explained. We will address the question if the wavefunction is a mere mathematical object or if it represents a real physical entity.

The wavefunction and its `collapse`: abstraction or reality?

The description of the quantum world in terms of a probabilistic interpretation led to a mathematical formalism which is quite different than that used in classical physics. Classical states and dynamical variables are replaced by state vectors and operators, the "observables". The resulting formalism led to Schrödinger's equation which became the base for a successful understaning of atomic physics.

The state vector, Schroedinger's equation and atomic orbitals

Angular momentum and spin are physical quantities which we intuitively ascribe to rotating objects. Do they apply in the same way for elementary point particles?

Spin: do particles rotate?
Basics II - Mysteries and paradoxes of the quantum world
12 Lectures 04:11:07

The Stern-Gerlach experiment was decisive in demonstrating the impossibility to know the particles's spin values along two directions at the same time.

The Stern-Gerlach experiment and commutation relations

Can particles spin clockwise AND anti-clockwise at the same time? In the microscopic quantum world it is a normal state of affairs.

Quantum superposition: being in two states at the same time

Can a cat be dead AND alive at the same time? Quantum mechanics seems to suggest this, however at a closer inspection the paradox can be solved.

Schrödinger`s cat: ``dead or alive´´, or ´´dead and alive´´?

In analogy to Heisenberg's uncertainty over position and impulse, likewise it is impossible to determine with absolute precision the energy has at a definite time. There are however fundamental differences between the two uncertainties.

The time-energy uncertainty

Can a particle jump through a classically forbidden barrier? Quantum mechanics allows to tunnel through a potential barrier even if it has not the classical allowed energy to do that.

The tunnel effect: jumping over forbidden barriers

Is "empty" space really empty? According to quantum physics there can't exist no such thing. We will take a look at the vacuum zero-point energy, the concept of virtual particles and the Casimir effect.

Vacuum zero-point energy, virtual particles and the Casimir effect

Enstein and Bohr did not agree on how to interpret quantum physics. Einstein tried to disprove it with thought experiments and Bohr pointed out its fallacies. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics took shape.

The Einstein vs. Bohr debate

Two identical elementary particles are no longer distinguishable after interaction. They will form a unique indistinguishable whole.

Quantum indistinguishability

In quantum theory particles can be entangled with each others also light years away and apparently "feel" instantly the state of the other. How should this be correctly interpreted?

Quantum entanglement

A. Einstein, B. Podolsky and N. Rosen proposed a thought experiment that was supposed to show how it is possible to circumvent the commutation relations of QM and why it has to be considered therefore an incomplete theory. Were they right?

The EPR paradox

Some quantum phenomena seem to imply an action at a distance faster than light. Instant correlation between particles also light years apart are possible. Does this allow for faster than light transmission of information?

Faster than light transmission?

It looks like that quantum mechanics describes a non-local reality, where apparently faster than light interactions might occur. In what sense should we interpret this? What experiments could help us to discriminate between different interpretations?

EPR's legacy and Bell inequalities: what is a local reality?
Supplemental I - Going deeper into the quantum realm
7 Lectures 02:04:20

What does it really mean that particles interact? What is a field and what kind of particles are the "material" particles and those responsible as force carriers? This lecture sets the stage to understand better the distinction between bosons and fermions.

Bosons, fermions and the Pauli exclusion principle: part I

The universe is made by two types of particles: bosons and fermions. In this lecture we review the basic properties of them and how they behave differently in quantum mechanics.

Bosons, fermions and the Pauli exclusion principle: part II

The Pauli exclusion principle, one of the most fundamental principles of quantum physics, is explained, and its consequences or the behavior of matter in extreme conditions like in White Dwarfs or neutron stars analysed.

Bosons, fermions and the Pauli exclusion principle: part III

Why is matter stable? Why do electrons not fall into the atomic nucleus?

The stability of matter

This is a long lecture and for advanced students only. It is however not compulsory or necessary to understand the rest of the course material. It is nevertheless a fascinating effect which shows how quantum objects do (apparently?) not need to be in direct contact with a magnetic field to be influenced by its presence.

The Aharnov-Bohm effect

The Quantum Zeno effect is a strange quantum property of the quantum world whereby, the time evolution of a quantum system can be suppressed by frequent measurements.

The quantum Zeno effect

Why do particles, which are not subjected to external forces, move along a straight line? Richard's Feynman path integral formulation of quantum mechanics furnishes an unexpected answer.

Path integrals and Feynman diagrams
Supplemental II - Quantum philosophy reborn
7 Lectures 02:06:10

With the advent of laser and optical technologies it is nowadays possible to perform experiments which were impossible at the times of Einstein or Schrödinger. The Mach-Zehnder interferometer is a typical device that is used to test the foundation of quantum mechanics and is worth a closer look.

The Mach-Zehnder interferometer

The "which way" experiments are particular experimental setups that trace the whereabouts of a particle without perturbing it along the path, and which show that the mere information of the particle's path is sufficient to destroy interference.

"Which Way" experiments

Please consider that the second polarzation-rotator should be placed after the first polarization-rotator and before the second beam splitter (i.e., NOT after the second beam splitter and D1, as shown in the lecture's slide). I  apologize for this mistake and will fix this with a new video as soon as I can, but meanwhile keep this in mind!

It is information about the path a particles travels along which makes the wavefunction collapse. But is it due to a perturbation of it or is it a general (information theoretic) law of nature? By using twice the same device which furnishes this information, but erasing it at the second stage of measurement we get the answer.

Quantum erasure experiments: is information physical?

Is it possible to measure the presence of an object without interacting with it? Does meausurement always imply interaction and perturbation of the measured object?

Interaction free experiments: how to detect a bomb without interacting with it

Can we deceive nature by delaying the choice if we want to observe the wave or particle nature of a photon flying through the double slit experiment?

The "delayed choice" experiments: trying to deceive nature

The Scully-Englert-Walther experiments contains several of the typical quantum philosophy experiment: it is a quantum eraser and which-way experiment that shows the wave-particle duality for atoms. It is important for understanding how the principle of complementarity is fundamental and seems to have temporal retro-causal effects.

The Scully-Englert-Walther experiment and the complementary principle

Quantum teleportation is a bizarre quantum effect that reminds scifi transportation systems like that of the "beaming" of objects in Star Trek's film. This is still not possible for macroscopic objects, but it has been shown experimentally to be possible with single particles or atoms.

Quantum teleportation
1 Lecture 03:50
Final considerations and outlook
About the Instructor
4.7 Average rating
82 Reviews
2,659 Students
1 Course
Physicist (Ph.D.) and tutor

I graduated in physics at the university of Padua (near Venice), and later obtained a Ph.D in physics at the university of Trento. Later worked as a PostDoc researcher in universities in Italy, France and more recently in Germany, where I'm actually living. I'm striving for a new pedagogical paradigm for higher education and working on a project to establish a Free Progress University.

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