Some light quantum mechanics (with MinutePhysics)

by Super User, 5 years ago
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This is a simple primer for how the math of quantum mechanics, specifically in the context of polarized light, relates to the math of classical waves, specifically classical electromagnetic waves.

I will say, if you *do* want to go off and learn the math of quantum mechanics, you just can never have too much linear algebra, so check out the series I did at

*Note on conventions: Throughout this video, I use a single-headed right arrow to represent the horizontal direction. The standard in quantum mechanics is actually to use double-headed arrows for describing polarization states, while single-headed arrows are typically reserved for the context of spin.

What's the difference? Well, using a double-headed arrow to represent the horizontal direction emphasizes that in a quantum mechanical context, there's no distinction between left and right. They each have the same measurable state: horizontal (e.g. they pass through horizontally oriented filters). Once you're in QM, these kets are typically vectors in a more abstract space where vectors are not necessarily spatial directions but instead represent any kind of state.

Because of how I chose to motivate things with classical waves, where it makes sense for this arrow to represent a unit vector in the right direction, rather than the more abstract idea of a horizontal state vector, I chose to stick with the single-headed notation throughout, though this runs slightly against convention.

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Music by Vincent Rubinetti:


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