The Strange World of Quantum Mechanics
This World Wide Web page written by
Oberlin College Physics Department;
last updated 18 November 2009.
This World Wide Web site is devoted to the book
The Strange World of Quantum Mechanics,
Daniel F. Styer
(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., 2000).
CUP U.S. server
or CUP U.K. server.
(ISBNs: hardback 0-521-66104-8; paperback 0-521-66780-1.)
(154 plus xiv pages.)
You may send the author computer mail at
Quantum mechanics--the rules that govern the domain of the very
small--is strange and unfamiliar, but for those who open their
minds to the way nature behaves (instead of to our preconceptions
of how nature "ought" to behave) it is also consistent, logical,
and even delightful. This book provides a honest yet non-technical
introduction to quantum mechanics for a general audience. It touches
upon issues ranging from classics like heat radiation to the most recent
advances in quantum computers, but at its core are discussions of
Bell's theorem (which shows that our classical ideas are wrong) and of
quantal interference experiments (which provide guideposts for replacing
those ideas). The book is useful as a textbook in topical courses
for a general audience, as a supplement for technical quantum mechanics
courses, and especially for individual readers seeking intellectual
- An honest yet non-technical account of quantum mechanics that avoids
oversimplification and provides a deep understanding rather
than a superficial gloss.
- Avoidance of technical jargon and the mathematical tools of the trade:
the emphasis is on nature, not on how scientists study nature or how
they found out about nature.
- The experiments and reasoning backing our understanding of nature
are presented for the reader to critically examine. The book
does not simply quote conclusions and expected readers to accept
them on the basis of authority.
- Treatment of the new and fast-growing fields of quantum cryptography
and quantum computation.
Dan Styer is a Professor of Physics at Oberlin College.
A graduate of Swarthmore College and Cornell University, he has
published technical research papers in Physical Review,
the Journal of Statistical Physics, and the Proceedings of
the Royal Society. Styer is an associate editor of the American
Journal of Physics, and his quantum mechanics software won
the 1994 Computers in Physics Educational Software Contest.
A man of lively intellect, Styer's goal in life is to keep
learning new things, and to that end he invests energy into
presenting science to a general audience. "I learn a lot through
research and by teaching technical courses to physics majors,"
says Styer, "but I learn even more by distilling the essence of
physics ideas into a rigorously honest yet non-technical presentation
for a general audience. To reach this group, I cannot hide my
ignorance behind a screen of mathematical formulas or technical
jargon." Professor Styer enjoys running, backpacking, and rearing
his two children as well as doing science.
Daniel V. Schroeder
of Weber State University (Ogden, Utah 84408-2508)
has written software named Spins to simulate the Stern-Gerlach
experiment, as mentioned on page 19 of the book.
It is available for free through
This software is described
in the article by Daniel V. Schroeder and Thomas A. Moore,
"A computer-simulated Stern-Gerlach laboratory",
American Journal of Physics, 61 (1993) 798-805.
I have written software for the visualization of quantal wavefunctions
as mentioned on page 118 of the book. It works under
Micro$oft Windows (or MS-DOS) and is available for free.
this program onto your Windows computer, doubleclick on QMtARC.exe to unpack the
software, then doubleclick on QMValue.exe to run it.
(Or, if using MS-DOS, type "QMtARC" to unpack
and type "QMValue" to run.) (After unpacking, you may delete the archive
If you wish to study quantum mechanics beyond what is treated in my
book, I recommend Richard Feynman's QED: The Strange Theory of Light
and Matter (Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1985)
(see page 145 of The Strange World of Quantum Mechanics).
One drawback of this book is that its admirable tight organization is
not reflected through the chapter headings or by dividing the chapters into
sections. To help remedy this defect, I have prepared a
of the book.
Some points in Feynman's book that many readers find tricky are treated in
"Elucidation of Some Tricky Points".
for my course out of which the book evolved.
- The physicist
- The Powers of Ten web site is definitely worth a visit,
in part because it distributes the video and CD-ROM
mentioned on page 84.
- These are also distributed by
- The motion picture
mentioned on page 84.
- The science behind the making of
- More on Cosmic Voyage, including a link to purchase a video.
(Better than nothing, but not as good as seeing it on the big screen!)
- Watch a
of Feynman's Character of Physical Law
lecture described on page 145.
- Nonsense in the name of quantum mechanics:
Quantum therapy, argg!
(Additional comments from QuackWatch.)
- Or, if that's not bad enough, try the quantum tennis swing!
(I'm told that the quantum golf swing is equally effective.)