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written by Guangtian Zhu and Chandralekha Singh
The Stern–Gerlach experiment can play an important role in teaching the formalism of quantum mechanics. In the context of a finite-dimensional Hilbert space students can learn how to prepare a specific quantum state starting from an arbitrary state, issues related to the time evolution of the wave function and quantum measurement. The Stern–Gerlach experiment can also be used to teach the distinction between the physical space where the experiment is performed and the Hilbert space where the state of the system lies, and how information about the state of the system in the Hilbert space can be exploited to interpret the possible outcomes of the experiment in physical space. Students can learn the advantages of choosing an appropriate basis to make predictions about the outcomes of experiments with different arrangements of Stern–Gerlach devices. The latter can also help students understand that an ensemble of identically prepared systems is not the same as a mixture. We discuss student difficulties with the Stern–Gerlach experiment based on written tests and interviews with advanced undergraduate and graduate students in quantum mechanics courses. We also discuss preliminary data which suggest that the Quantum Interactive Learning Tutorial on the Stern–Gerlach experiment is helpful in improving student understanding of these concepts.
American Journal of Physics: Volume 79, Issue 5, Pages 499-507
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