Author Q&A Session: Alastair Rae and Jim Napolitano


Quantum Mechanics, Sixth Edition
​Alastair Rae and Jim Napolitano

We are pleased to share with you our Author Q and A session with Alastair Rae and Jim Napolitano. Authors of Quantum Mechanics, 6e, Rae and Napolitano discuss their latest title and what makes it different from previous editions.

Background to the book (Alastair Rae)

1. The first edition of this classic textbook was published in 1980. What motivated you to write the book originally?

When I first taught quantum mechanics in the 1970s, there were not many texts to choose from and those that were available assumed quite an advanced knowledge of classical mechanics which my students didn’t possess.  I also judged that it was perfectly possible to learn quantum mechanics without this and that I could find ways of explaining some of the subtler topics in a clear way, with emphasis on the physical results that underlie the inevitably complex mathematics.  That period also marked a revival of interest in the philosophical and conceptual implications of quantum physics, so I included a chapter explaining and discussing some of these.  This was quite novel then, and this chapter has been updated in all later editions.

2. Over the years, what have you seen as the book’s distinguishing features?

I believe that my aim of providing a clear physics-based account has been successfully met and that my chapter on foundational questions has been quite widely appreciated.
3. How did you find your students responded to the subject when you taught quantum mechanics using your book?

Students I taught said they liked it.  I have also met students from other universities who spoke very highly of It and even pressed their lecturers to recommend it.

4. Can you give some examples of other universities who have adopted your book? What have other instructors told you about how they’ve found it, teaching from the book?

The book is widely recommended for Quantum Mechanics courses in UK physics departments.  These include the universities of Bristol, Cambridge, King’s College London and Warwick.

5. How did the book change over the years when you were the sole author – how did it evolve between the 1st and 5th editions?

Based on my teaching experience and feedback from students, I revised the whole text each time, seeking to increase the clarity of its discussion where I could.  The chapter on conceptual foundations was updated in the light of recent research in this area.  The scope of the book was widened by the addition of a chapter on Relativistic QM and another on Quantum Information, which is a particularly lively topic at present.

6. What are your hopes for how the sixth edition of the book will be received and used by instructors and students?

I hope that the addition of three introductory chapters and the doubling of the number of end-of-chapter problems will make the book more accessible and more fitting for the US market.

7. How would you describe your approach as an instructor and an author?

My aim is to present the subject as clearly as possible, ensuring that when new topics are introduced,  they are derived from knowledge of physics and mathematics that students have previously encountered.

The creation of the sixth edition (Jim Napolitano)

1. Tell us why you were excited to take part in creating a sixth edition of this bestselling book, and summarise the changes that were made to the book, when creating a sixth edition.

It is truly satisfying to help a student understand why nature is the way it is. For physicists, Quantum Mechanics underlies all of our fundamental understandings. Consequently, it was a pleasure to pursue my passion as an educator and take on a collaboration with Alastair Rae to produce a Sixth Edition of "Quantum Mechanics."
The Fifth Edition was a complete book, suitable for a one year course at most if not all undergraduate physics curricula at major institutions. Nevertheless, the book never attained a strong foothold in America, and I considered why that might be. There are in fact very many available textbooks at this level, and it seemed that most places picked one at some time in the past, and then stuck with them (or their revisions).

So, we made three major changes in producing the Sixth Edition, aimed at enhancing its attractiveness to new adopters, particularly in the US. First, three introductory chapters were added, to make clear the level of physics and mathematics assumed by the remainder of the book. Second, the book was separated into five Parts, each of which describes a more or less self-contained body of information on Quantum Mechanics. Third, we added a number of Applications, highlighted as supplemental information scattered throughout the book.

2. What do you feel are the distinguishing features of the sixth edition when compared to other books on the market?  

The flow of the book is unchanged from the Fifth Edition. It can be used in the same way as the Fifth Edition, which, unlike many upper level textbooks on Quantum Mechanics, includes discussions of several advanced topics such as quantum information, superconductivity, relativistic quantum mechanics and conceptual problems. The Sixth Edition adds the introductory material, and then the concept of "Parts" along with the application examples. In this sense, this book is a complete undergraduate course, more so than other books of which I am aware.

It was pleasing to see the book being well received by the endorsers, many of whom are based in the US (Brown, Kentucky, Florida International University, Stanford, Iowa State University).

Working with Alastair and also Francesca McGowan was enjoyable as well as fruitful. I'm optimistic that this book will find its way into quality undergraduate curricula in the US and continue its growth elsewhere.

3. Can you explain how instructors at different types of university, with different types of student cohort, could use the sixth edition of this book?

Undergraduate quantum mechanics is taught differently at different physics departments. Alastair’s book, with some additions from me, is a “complete” treatment which would be covered in one year, or perhaps three semesters, depending on students’ preparation entering the material.

Our book should be perfectly suited to two-semester (or three-quarter) course in Quantum Mechanics at the junior level in US universities. The first three chapters could be quickly reviewed, or left to the students to review on their own. The bulk of the book would serve to cover all of the important material that such a course should contain, as well as applications of quantum mechanics to various disciplines, such as superconductivity and quantum information.

In the US, our book could also be appropriate for students taking degrees in Materials Science and Electrical Engineering, for example, who need to understand the basic formalism of quantum mechanics and our book shows how it is used in various important ways. These departments may use it for the class as offered in the university’s physics department, but also might offer their own “quantum physics” (or similarly named) course.

Previous editions of the book have been widely recommended by teachers of physics degree courses in the UK and the latest edition with its new chapters should be even more appropriate for these.  It should also be an option for courses in quantum mechanics taught in other European countries in the English language.

4. Tell us about the ancillary materials which accompany the book

The book is supported by a Solutions Manual available to teachers; this contains outline solutions to all the end-of-chapter problems. There is also a website which includes some colour illustrations and updates.

Quantum Mechanics, 6e‚Äč

Alastair Rae

Alastair I.M. Rae 

Alastair retired as a reader in quantum physics from the University of Birmingham. He first taught quantum mechanics in the 1970s, which led to the publication of the first edition of this book. He has conducted research in many areas of condensed matter physics, including superconductivity and its "high temperature" manifestations.

Jim Napolitano 

Jim is a professor of physics at Temple University. His research field is experimental nuclear and particle physics, focusing primarily on studies of fundamental interactions. He also is interested in modern instructional techniques and has published two textbooks on advanced topics in physics.