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David Kaiser is an American physicist and historian of science.
Turning physicists into quantum mechanics (2007)
“Turning physicists into quantum mechanics”, Physics World (May 2007)
- There has never been just one best way to teach quantum mechanics. My goal is neither to sow nostalgia for the philosophically engaged style of Oppenheimer and Nordheim, nor to condemn the pragmatic approach of Fermi, Bethe and Feynman. It is rather to highlight the choices that physicists must always make when stepping into the classroom. Choices of topics to discuss and problems to assign reflect deeper decisions about the ideal type of physicist one seeks to train. Should the new generation be philosophically attuned, concerned with minute details of conceptual interpretation? Or should physicists hone their ability to calculate, pushing Heisenberg’s and Schrödinger’s equations into the service of ever more elaborate problems to solve and phenomena to analyse? Competing ideals have flourished under different pedagogical conditions.
- Strangely enough, many of the philosophical issues surrounding quantum mechanics are today being used to entice potential students into physics. As quantum computing and quantum communication become a commercial reality, tomorrow’s students may find themselves routinely grappling with the same philosophical questions that challenged their forebears almost a century ago.