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Ask HN: Good software for interactive exploration of quantum/particle physics?
86 points by Fr0styMatt88 on June 27, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 24 comments
I've been on a big math and physics kick lately and have started reading Feynman's "Six Easy Pieces".

It's got me thinking - what software is out there that is kind of like a particle / quantum physics sandbox? Any environments where you can start playing with things, such as particles and forces, with lots of graphics / interactivity?

To put it another way - what are some of the best 'software physics toys' that people have come across?

I've seen 'The Powder Toy' (http://powdertoy.co.uk/) and 'Algodoo' (http://www.algodoo.com/). Algodoo seems to deal mainly with mechanics and The Powder Toy is extremely fun though not really meant to be realistic as such.

Anything like 'The Powder Toy' but more in-depth?

For quantum physics, you have to try "Quantum Moves" which is a citizen science project studying optimal control for a particle wave packet. The preliminary results were recently published in nature (http://www.nature.com/news/human-mind-excels-at-quantum-phys...).

The game is available for many platforms (including iOS and Android) at https://www.scienceathome.org/games/quantum-moves/game. Be aware that the game is highly addictive!

At the more serious end; the quantum optics toolbox in python (QuTip) http://qutip.org/index.html is what I used for my PhD research. Combined with Jupiter notebook http://jupyter.org/ it gives you a great sandbox to quickly setup Hamiltonians and plot their dynamics. It also has extensive docs and examples too. You can simulate simple systems in just a few lines of python.

There is "Quirk" by Craig Gidney, a Quantum Circuit Simulator.


The github repo: https://github.com/Strilanc/Quirk

The blog post introducing it, with a bit more context: http://algorithmicassertions.com/2016/05/22/quirk.html

OP, we're in the same boat. I also am in a deep, deep QM hole, and just finished reading Six Easy Pieces, Six Not-So-Easy Pieces, and QED (HIGHLY recommended), and have been trying to work through several quantum physics textbooks. It's astonishing to me how few high-quality visualizations there are: smatterings of videos on youtube (which you can't always guarantee are trustworthy).

I've been dreaming of a WebGL-based 'quantum lab' to revolutionize this. Would anyone be interested in helping attack this problem with me?

Lastly, I'll add in my recommendation since I don't see it here yet: Falstad's terrific simulators, with a whole section just for QM. (Note: java applets. SIIIGGHHHHH) http://www.falstad.com/mathphysics.html

Note—all of Falstad's stuff is open source, and I've been dying to port a few to webgl as a way to get started. Anyone with an interest in this would be a very welcome help!

Check out Processing.org

You might be able to sketch something up fairly easily. It's a code-based visualizer/interactivity used mainly for art but I imagine it'd be easy to plug in some algorithms to mimic QM.

It's still quite hard to do simulations on the timescales needed for any sort of interesting chemical reaction or physical effects.

Foldit (http://fold.it/portal/) is probably the best there is – a game that actually contributes to the science of protein folding.

You can also try GROMACS to actually run physical simulations, but it's more involved and not what you'd consider interactive. But you can look at your molecule wiggling in space with any pdb viewer.

Quantum puzzle game where you have to guide your wavefunction through obstacles. https://linkingideasblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/25/learning-q... (Java required)

If you are into quantum computing, IBM has recently made runtime on an actual hardware quantum computer available for free at http://www.research.ibm.com/quantum/

Totally not a simulation and more of a particle-themed game is Particulars. [1] It is a game with a story but it stays true to the underlying science of combining quarks and other fundamental particles.

I found it to be pretty fun but since it is based on such un-intuitive physics it's sometimes pretty hard to understand what you are doing or why you've won or lost a level.


Thanks all, these are great suggestions!

By the way, re- The Powder Toy - despite my comment in the question it actually seems like it's pretty realistic in many ways. The number of different things it models at once is impressive (interactions between substances, airflow and pressure, ambient heat and heat flow, etc) plus it has a ton of visualisation modes for seeing properties of the simulation (such as visualising temperature). Highly highly recommended - I've already spent a large amount of time in it! :)

The book "Visual Quantum Mechanics" by Bernd Thaller includes a CD-ROM. I didn't use the software, but I found the book interesting.

EDIT: I'm not sure if the latest edition still includes the CD-ROM.

EDIT2: There are some materials on the book's website, http://vqm.uni-graz.at/index.html

I had stumbled upon this recently, and it kills me that these kinds of resources aren't more available. Even the few (outdated .mov) videos are extremely helpful.

Excellent question! I found the CERN Virtual Atom Smasher [0], which you might find interesting. I haven't personally played with it enough to be able to tell you how it is; it is directly from CERN, though.

0: http://test4theory.cern.ch/vas/

A good powerful simulation tool you should look into should really be GEANT4. It really sets the standard by which all Nuclear Physics simulation try to adhere. It is not a 'toy' but more like a collection of tools you can use to simulate anything from x-ray radiation to a Photon's path inside a scintillator.

The SpinDrops app for iOS draws representation of QM state and gives some feeling for time evolution:


This might not be very helpful, but I have some code that does a QM simulation - single particle in arbitrary potential, can do hydrogen atom etc.. Quite a lot of fun to watch. I plan to make some videos of it some day, and maybe release it as a program.

There is a research project around here called SAMSON https://youtu.be/kjegYq4hflo?t=51s

the nanohub.org is a good place to play with model systems of quantum conduction, EK dispersions, and such if you're interested in learning about molecular transistors, for instance. Along the same lines, you can play with Quantum Espresso (http://www.quantum-espresso.org/) to do your own full blown abinitio quantum simulations.

On Linux you can use KDE's Step [0]

[0] https://edu.kde.org/step/

Does that do quantum physics? It says classical in the information on that page.

If you want to tinker with gravity, you can try ThreeBody (Lite or Full) on iOS/Android.

Disclaimer - I'm the developer.

sympy has recently added some modules, see the quantum subfolder in particular


There's an iPad app called "The Particles". Last update was in 2013 though.

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