More on 2012 Fall

Last semester, I was taking 8.05, 8.13, 8.231, and 14.04, along with continuing my UROP. I was busy and stressed basically all the time. Now I think I know why: it turns out that the classes I was taking were much closer to graduate classes in material, yet they came with all the trappings of an undergraduate class, like exams (that were not intentionally easy). Let me explain a little more.

8.05 — Quantum Physics II is where the linear algebra formalism and bra-ket notation of quantum mechanics are introduced and thoroughly investigated. Topics of the class include analysis of wavefunctions in 1-dimensional potentials, vectors in Hilbert spaces, matrix representations of operators, 2-state systems, applications to spin, NMR, continuous Hilbert spaces (e.g. position), the harmonic oscillator, coherent & squeezed states as well as the representation of photon states and the electromagnetic field operators forming a harmonic oscillator, angular momentum, addition of angular momenta, and Clebsch-Gordan coefficients. OK, so considering that most of these things are expected knowledge for the GRE in physics, this is probably more like a standard undergraduate quantum mechanics curriculum rather than a graduate-level curriculum. That said, apparently this perfectly substitutes for the graduate-level quantum theory class, because I know of a lot of people who go right from 8.05 to the graduate relativistic quantum field theory class.

8.13 — Experimental Physics I is generally a standard undergraduate physics laboratory class (although it is considered standard in the sense that its innovations have spread far and wide). The care and detail in performing experiments, analyzing data, making presentations, and writing papers seem like fairly obvious previews of graduate life as an experimental physicist.

8.231 — Physics of Solids I might be the first class on this list that actually could be considered a graduate-level class for undergraduates, also because the TAs for that class have said that it is basically a perfect substitute for the graduate class 8.511 — Theory of Solids I, allowing people who did well in 8.231 to take the graduate class 8.512 & mdash; Theory of Solids II immediately after that. 8.231 emphasized that it is not a survey course but intends to go deep into the physics of solids. I would say that it in fact did both: it was both fairly broad and incredibly deep. Even though the only prerequisite is 8.044 — Statistical Physics I with the corequisite being 8.05, 8.231 really requires intimate familiarity with the material of 8.06 — Quantum Physics III, which is what I am taking this semester. 8.06 introduces in fairly simple terms things like the free electron gas (which is also a review from 8.044), the tight-binding model, electrons in an electromagnetic field, the de Haas-van Alphen effect, and the integer quantum Hall effect, and it will probably talk about perturbation theory and the nearly-free electron gas. 8.231 requires a good level of comfort with these topics, as it goes into much more depth with all of these, as well as the basic descriptions of crystals and lattices, reciprocal space and diffraction, intermolecular forces, phonons, band theory, semiconductor theory and doping, a little bit of the fractional quantum Hall effect (which is much more complicated than its integer counterpart), a little bit of topological insulator theory, and a little demonstration on superfluidity and superconductivity.

14.04 &; Intermediate Microeconomic Theory is the other class I can confidently say is much closer to a graduate class than an undergraduate class, because I talked to the professor yesterday and he said exactly this. He said that typical undergraduate intermediate microeconomic theory classes are more like 14.03 &; Microeconomic Theory and Public Policy (which I am taking now), where the constrained optimization problems are fairly mechanical, and there may be discussion on the side of applications to real-world problems. By contrast, 14.04 last semester focused on the fundamentals of abstract choice theory with a lot more elegant mathematical formalism, the application of those first principles to derive all of consumer and producer choice theories, partial and general equilibrium, risky choice theory, subjective risky choice theory and its connections to Arrow-Debreu securities and general equilibrium, oligopoly and game theory, asymmetric information, and other welfare problems. The professor was saying that by contrast to a typical such class elsewhere, 14.04 here is much closer to a graduate microeconomic theory/decision theory class, and the professor wanted to achieve that level of abstract conceptualization while not going too far for an undergraduate audience.

At this point, I'm hoping that the experiences from last semester pay off this semester. It looks like that has been working so far!

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