Physical Principles: Quantum Mechanics

  • Peter R. Bergethon


The practitioners of Western physics believed they had reached the climax of their art by the end of the nineteenth century. When a young Max Planck turned to the study of physics, he was warned that the field was virtually closed and that no significant or fundamental discoveries remained These views are certainly understandable from the perspective of the nineteenth-century practitioner. Appreciating the certainty of this view and then following the path by which the ideas of classical physics were replaced provides one of the best historical examples confirming the ideas put forth in chapter 2. The quite stunning rise of modern physics (which is composed of quantum and relativistic theory) from the monolith of classical physics followed from a fundamental shift in assumptions and a fresh view of the physical state space. As we will see in the following discussion, a shift in the paradigm from the macroscopic to the microscopic nature of the universe led to a reevaluation of the empirical evidence already at hand. The experimental evidence could not be understood (or better, properly linked to a formal model) until the simplifying assumptions on which the treatment of mechanics was based were revisited and revised. The new mechanical constructs that reflect both a shift in the way the state space is viewed and how the observables are linked to a formal theoretical model compose the language and concepts of modern physics and are the foundation of modern natural science. We will follow the historical development of the quantum theory as an example of model making and use this perspective as our approach for learning the details of the field.


Wave Function Wave Packet Physical Principle Black Body Classical Physic 
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Further Reading


  1. Cassidy D. C. (1992) Heisenberg, Uncertainty and the Quantum Revolution. Scientific American, 266 (5): 106–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Hoffman, B. (1947) The Strange Story of the Quantum. Dover Books, New York.Google Scholar
  3. Snow, C. P. (1981) The Physicists: A Generation that Changed the World. Little, Brown and Co., Boston.Google Scholar

Textbook Chapters Treating Quantum Mechanics

  1. Feynman R. P., Leighton R. B., and Sands M. (1963). The Feynman Lectures on Physics, volume 3. Addison-Wesley, Publishing Co., Reading, MA.Google Scholar
  2. Tinocco I., Sauer K., and Wang J. C. (1994) Physical Chemistry with Applications in Biological Sciences, 3rd ed. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.Google Scholar

Textbooks on Quantum Mechanics

  1. Atkins P. W. (1991) Quanta: A Handbook of Concepts, 2d ed. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Like an illustrated glossary. Fun to read and useful.Google Scholar
  2. Atkins P W. and Friedman R. S. (1996) Molecular Quantum Mechanics,3rd ed. Oxford University Press, New York. For the chemically oriented reader, this is the definitive textbook.Google Scholar
  3. Brandt S. and Dahmen H. D. (1995a) The Picture Book of Quantum Mechanics, 2d ed. Springer-Verlag, New York. Mostly physics and not at an elementary level, but the illustrations are very useful and quite beautiful.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brandt S. and Dahmen H. D. (1995b) Quantum Mechanics on the Macintosh (also available on the PC), 2d ed. Springer-Verlag, New York. This is the program used in the preceding book to generate the graphics. I used this program to generate the illustrations for section 9. 12. The program is interactive and acts like a laboratory in which the user can gain a substantial practical feel for quantum mechanical behavior. I highly recommend its use in the classroom, laboratory, or even as a “video distraction” for anyone interested in developing more than an arm’s length feeling for quantum mechanical systems.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Eisberg R. and Resnick R. (1985) Quantum Physics of Atoms, Molecules, Solids, Nuclei and Particles, 2d ed. John Wiley and Sons, New York. A physics text. But this text is a wonderfully lucid discussion of quantum physics for the student ready to go beyond the introductory treatments.Google Scholar
  6. Hanna M. W. (1981) Quantum Mechanics in Chemistry. The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Co., Menlo Park, CA.Google Scholar

Interesting Papers

  1. Boeyens J. C. A. (1995) Understanding Electron Spin. J. Chem. Ed., 72: 412–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Corkern W. H. and Holmes L. H. Jr. (1991) Why There’s Frost on the Pumpkin. J. Chem. Ed., 68:825. Application of black-body radiation physics to a question dealing with phase transitions.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Dence J. B. (1983) Note on a Simple Derivation of Planck’s Formula from Special Relativity. J. Chem. Ed., 60:645–646. The derivation of Planck’s important formula from a viewpoint that is completely different from the historical one we have taken. A good start into relativity.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Einstein, A. On a Heuristic Point of View Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light. Annalen der Physik 17:132–48, 1905 Einstein’s papers are always worth a careful read. They are surprisingly accessible.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Einstein, A. On the Theory of Light Production and Light Absorption. Annalen der Physik 20: 196–206, 1906.Google Scholar
  6. Einstein, A. Planck’s Theory of Radiation and the Theory of Specific Heat. Annalen der Physik 22: 180–90, 1907.Google Scholar
  7. Englert B., Scully M. O. and Walther H. (1994) The Duality in Matter and Light. Scientific American, 271(6):86–92. An accessible introduction to complementary properties.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Volkamer K. and Lerom M. W. (1992) More about the Particle-in-a-Box System. J. Chem. Ed., 69: 100–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Quantum Mechanics in Biology

  1. Devault D. (1980) Quantum Mechanical Tunneling in Biological Systems, Quart. Rev. Biophys., 13: 387–564. [Detailed application of this important aspect of quantum mechanics to biological systems.]CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter R. Bergethon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiochemistryBoston University School of MedicineBostonUSA

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