Friday, April 03, 2009

The steepness of SM358

I was going to do the third computer assessment for my QM course yesterday (iCMA 53). However, the course website was down for an upgrade, so I went into revision mode instead with the course book 1. Boy, I was glad I did.

The conceptual ramp-up in SM358 is quite severe and it's amazing how much you don't get at first reading. Yesterday I revised stationary solutions in square wells and today it's the following chapter on harmonic oscillators and ladder functions. The final chapters are on wave packets, motion, scattering and tunnelling and I expect new revelations as I review this material.

The iCMAs are challenging to one's self-esteem. There are 8 multiple choice questions, which invariably require pen and paper calculation. If you make a wrong choice, you are deducted 3 marks (you start with 100) and are given a hint. This process recurs through the whole test and once lost, marks cannot be regained. So far, I have never gotten through with 100%.

Only you and your tutor can see your marks, which are not assessed for the overall course, so the damage resulting from errors is only to your reputation. Naturally, I find this stressful.

On a complementary theme, I was surprised today by another copy of New Scientist flopping through the door - I had assumed my subscription to be well-finished by now. The main feature concerned the development of the brain through life.

I naturally turned to the final section, the ageing brain, where I discovered the secular decline of IQ with age, specifically fluid intelligence - the kind measured by culture-free IQ tests. Sadly this stuff is essential for tackling conceptual material like Quantum Mechanics.

The only potential bright spot was that at least the emotional response to this decline can be partially offset by the consumption of chocolate.