HPS 2523 History of Quantum Mechanics Fall 2012

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Quantum mechanics emerged slowly over the first three decades of the 20th century in the work of many physicists. The main focus of this seminar will be the final decade of this thirty year period. We will proceed rapidly to the paper that marked the end of the "old quantum theory" and gave the first clear statement of the "new quantum theory," Heisenberg's "Umdeutung" paper of 1925. We will then review how the speculations of this paper developed over the ensuing few years through the work of many into the quantum theory of the modern textbooks, as exemplified by Von Neumann's 1932 Foundations.



John D. Norton, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Room 817L CL, 412 624 1051, jdnorton@pitt.edu


Room G28 CL


Thursday 9:30am-12:00noon

Your Part

Term paper

To be submitted on Friday December 14 in hard copy by noon in 1017CL; or e-versions in email to me by 5pm.

My policy is NOT to issue incomplete grades, excepting in extraordinary circumstances. I really do want your papers completed and submitted by the end of term. I do not want them to linger on like an overdue dental checkup, filling your lives with unnecessary worry and guilt.

In return for the rigidity of the deadline, the seminar will not meet in the final week of term (Thusday December 13) to give you extra time to complete the paper.

The paper may be on any subject of relevance to the seminar.

To assist you in commencing work, I ask you submit a paper proposal by Thursday November 8 in the seminar. The proposal need only be brief. It should contain a paragraph describing the topic to be investigated and give a brief indication of the sources you intend to use. Do talk to me about possible topics in advance!

Take your turn presenting material

The seminar will be structured around presentations by seminar members, including me. They are based on weekly readings drawn from the topics and reading list.

In presenting a reading, you should presume that the seminar has read the text. You should spend a short amount of time reviewing the principal ideas of the reading. This is not intended to replace the seminar's reading of the text, but merely to identify what you have found of importance and interest in the text. Your goal is establish a common understanding of the text's content upon which subsequent discussion is based.

Warm Up Exercises

Each week, at least in the initial weeks of term, I will set some warm up exercises, intended to ease you into the technical material of the readings. They are to be submitted to me in advance of the relevant class meeting, either on paper when the seminar starts or in advance by email.

Attendance and participation

... is expected. I look forward to seeing and hearing you each week in the seminar.


Looking for Ideas for the Term Paper? Some Suggestions:

Keep the topic small. I'll say that again. Keep it small; and then make it smaller. Otherwise you will likely get buried.

Choose a single paper from the 1920s and make explicating it your project.

Look at the talks given at the HQ conference series. They contain many interesting ideas that you could lead you to an interesting term paper.