History of Quantum Mechanics

Course content

Copenhagen is a privileged place to study the history of quantum mechanics. Focusing on the historical development of central ideas and concepts, the course is divided into 14 modules as follows:


  1. Classical physics in the late 19th century
  2. The quantum hypothesis
  3. Bohr’s atomic model
  4. The old quantum theory
  5. The correspondence principle, optical dispersion, and BKS theory
  6. The genesis of quantum (matrix) mechanics
  7. The genesis of wave mechanics
  8. Equivalence proofs
  9. Born’s probability interpretation and early interpretational debates 
  10. Quantum statistics
  11. Relativistic quantum mechanics 
  12. The electron theory of metals 
  13. Early nuclear physics
  14. Early quantum field theory


Students will read excerpts from original sources as well as secondary literature in order to gain insights into the genesis and development of core ideas and concepts in quantum physics. The focus is on understanding and contextualizing the most important contributions to quantum theory. We will discuss in detail what knowledge physicists had at their disposal, what motivated them, and how their contributions were received by their contemporaries. We will devote time to both understanding the technical details of these contributions and to studying their broader historical contexts. This will induce interesting and insightful a-ha moments when students compare original formulations with what they have learned about quantum physics and its history from modern textbooks.

The course is primarily intended for physics students who aim at gaining a deeper understanding of quantum mechanics and its historical development, regardless of whether they pursue a teaching or a research career. Students from other fields, such as mathematics, chemistry, history or philosophy, are also welcome.

Learning outcome

After having completed the course, the student will have an overview of important moments of the historical development of quantum physics and a deep knowledge about the original formulations of its central ideas and concepts.


After having completed the course the student will be able to

  • Read and interpret an original text of physics (in translation if necessary).
  • Find primary and secondary literature on the history of quantum physics.



After having completed the course the student will be able to:

  • Identify essential features of the original formulations of core theories and concepts studied in the quantum mechanics courses at the Bachelor level
  • Apply the original reasoning to solve problems and prove central theorems
  • Communicate orally as well as in written form about selected topics from the history of quantum physics
  • Analyze primary historical texts (if necessary in translation) of quantum physics.
  • Analyze, evaluate, and discuss secondary historical texts on selected topics in the history of quantum physics
  • Place a concrete piece of quantum physics in its historical context
  • Independently formulate and investigate historical questions within a specific field of quantum physics
  • Compare the original formulations with the modern ways of teaching quantum physics and reflect about pros and cons of their "didactic transformation"
  • Reflect upon past practices of physicists in their respective historical contexts
  • Have a basic understanding of the methods of history and philosophy of science
  • Use the history of quantum physics as a background for reflections about the philosophical and social status of modern physics

Lectures, oral presentations by the students, writing of essays, group discussions, group work on original sources

Selected primary and secondary sources (mostly in English translations) related to specific historical episodes of quantum physics. Materials will be available on Absalon.

Quantum Mechanics at introductory level is strongly recommended. Eg. Kvantemekanik1 and Kvantemekanik2.
Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Continuous assessment
Written assignment (40%): 10-page essay on a topic from the history of quantum physics, arguing for a central claim.
Oral presentation (30%): Each student gives one oral presentations in class based on selected exerpts from original sources.
Weekly essays (30%): Completion of 6 individual learning/reflection essays during the course.
All three assessments are mandatory to pass to pass the course.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
One internal examiner.
Criteria for exam assessment

See Learning outcome.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 32
  • Theory exercises
  • 32
  • Class Seminar
  • 10
  • Preparation
  • 100
  • Project work
  • 32
  • English
  • 206