Quantum Journey – coming to the end of SM358

This week I finished the last of the books in SM358 – the quantum world and am now starting two and a half weeks of intense revision to prepare for the exam. This has been by far the most enjoyable module to study in my Open University mathematics journey so far, even if it was also the first one without face to face tutorials.

While I am very happy at studying on my own, one of the aspects I have really enjoyed in previous modules was spending a few hours every month with fellow students. Not so much to solve problems (as I am always well behind where everyone else is!) but to be inspired. When work and family commitments get overwhelming, study is easy to put to one side, having a checkpoint in the diary helps prioritise and I always left tutorials feeling motivated. I’m not sure whether SM358 didn’t have face to face tutorials because it is a physics module or if it’s just a module that has never been successful with these. Online tutorials are just not the same. Partially because I don’t get home early enough to attend them, but also after a day at work, trying to switch to student mode and find a quiet corner of the house just isn’t possible.

Fortunately, this course was engaging enough that I managed to keep on top of it, albeit about 4 weeks behind constantly, but I wish there had been the opportunity to engage with my tutor other than through email. The assessments were all done in time, despite my percentages inversely correlating with some pretty harsh deadlines at work, and I’m pretty happy with the results. The decision to do only one level three course this year rather than the two I attempted last year was the right thing to do!

What has really struck me about this course was how all of my previous subjects of study have really come together. The pure mathematics of the degree course so far, particularly complex numbers, group theory, and calculus, gave me an advantage in the mathematical side. My first degree in biochemistry gave me the thorough understanding of the periodic table, familiarity with spectral lines, atomic bonding and the overall properties that quantum theory was trying to explain. As I came to the end of the last book, everything I had studied up until that point started fitting together. I think there’s certainly a case to be made for a longer combined undergraduate degree that includes the equivalent of (bio)chemistry, physics and mathematics together, probably over six years, to give students a deeper grounding in how these subjects interact.

The poem at the enbd of the book really struck home for me. I finally feel that I understand concepts that were introduced at a basic level back in my A-levels. I’m back where I started, but it’s familiar. The parody song by A Cappella Science really sums this up. With this course, I feel intimately familiar with every part of this song. If you’ve not seen Tim Blais’ work before then you’re in for a treat – watch his whole back catalogue.

While I have a single module left to do after this one to complete my maths degree with the OU, I can guarantee it won’t be the end of my education journey.

SM358 The Quantum World 25% in…

When I was looking at the level three maths modules for my Open University degree, one of the ones that really drew my eye was SM358, the quantum world.  I decided to only do a single module this year as I’d committed to a lot of speaking engagements in October and, in addition to my day job, I’ve been spending time on another project that I’m really excited about for the start of 2019.  From past experience, if you fall behind on OU modules at the beginning, it can be very hard to catch up.  This was really noticeable with the complex analysis and stochastic dynamics modules I started in 2017.  Rather than taking on too much, I decided on just one level 3 module.  Given my progress so far I’m only about a week behind and I’m pretty happy with that. Continue reading SM358 The Quantum World 25% in…

Review: Q is for Quantum by Terry Rudolph

Cover of Q is for QuantumOne of the modules I’m considering for level 3 of my OU maths degree is the quantum world. I recall my A-Level chemistry teacher trying to explain that electrons weren’t solid balls orbiting an atom but rather a probability cloud of where the electron could be. I read a lot of popular science books at the time but found that there was a huge gap between the very high level “here’s a thing, it’s really cool” and “here’s a thing and after 3 pages we’ll dive into complex theory that you’ve never encountered”. Hence when I heard that a new introductory book on the principles of quantum theory had been written specifically for inquisitive young people to help them decide if they wanted to learn the maths needed to take it further, I thought “this sounds like a book 16 year old me would have wanted to read” and I bought a copy for the kindle. Continue reading Review: Q is for Quantum by Terry Rudolph