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18 yr old need some advice

  1. Jul 2, 2006 #1
    Hey guys! I'm new to this forum...I wil be entering my first year of university this coming fall..either University of Toronto, or University of Western Ontario. I just had a question regarding what program does one usually take to get into theoretical physics? Just physics and then specialize in grad school afterwards? or.....double major math & physics...
    ??? Just wanted to know. Thanks folks. :)
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 2, 2006 #2
    ????? Nobody?
     
  4. Jul 2, 2006 #3
    Well I'm far from expert, but I would guess it depends what area of theoretical physics interests you. If you're into strings and that kind of thing, I guess you should take as many math classes as possible (or double major math-phy). If you're closer to condensed matter physics, I don't think you will need all those fancy math classes, but maybe few chemistry classes wouldn't hurt.

    P.S. Take this more as a "thinking out loud" rather than real advice :) .
     
  5. Jul 2, 2006 #4

    George Jones

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    Relax, this isn't a chat room :smile:. You didn't even wait two hours.

    Welcome to Physics Forums!

    I'm going out for a few hours, but when I get back, I'll try and give a response.
     
  6. Jul 2, 2006 #5

    G01

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    Concentrate on learning the physics. Major in physics and do the best you can in physics and math. Make sure you actually UNDERSTAND both subjects. Don't just memorize formulas, understand why they are the way they are. Question everything and make sure you understand. There no such thing majoring in theoretical physics. Major in physics and I would say at least minor in math. A double major is alot of work, remember. I'm just an undergrad myself and some may disagree with me so keep an open mind.

    Good Luck to you
     
  7. Jul 2, 2006 #6

    George Jones

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    In my opinion, Igor_S and and G01 (edit: oops, got the name wrong the first time 'round - sorry) have given excellent advice. The amount and type of mathematics varies depending on the area of theoretical physics.

    U of T has an excellent programme called Mathematics and Physics. This programme is very demanding, though. It might be useful to look up these courses in the course calendar.

    Some good advice from another U of T webpage:

    "The choice between the Mathematics and Physics and the Physics Specialist Programmes should be made on the basis of your ability and interest in mathematical formalism rather than your intention to enter graduate school in a theoretical or experimental programme."

    At least two inferences can be drawn from this quote: 1) this programme is not necessary to do grad work in theoretical physics; 2) university mathematics from a math department is usually a completely different language from the language used in high school, and this new language may or may not be to your liking.

    I don't know about Western's programmes, but you can probably find out a lot by poking around their website. I know about U of T's programme in Mathematics and Physics because I have a casual aquaintance who is going into fourth-year in this programme.

    I talk about the abstract side of mathematical physics in this post.

    As I said earlier, welcome to Physics Forums. Many of the people (both students and non-students) who post replies do so while taking a break from other work, i.e., while procrastinating. This means that some time may pass before a post gets answered, or that a post doesn't get answered at all. If this happens to you, don't get discouraged and don't give up on these forums.

    So ... take a leisurely look around. I hope the time spent here and in the university programme of your choice is pleasant and fruitful.
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2006
  8. Jul 2, 2006 #7
    Hey George thanks for the info, it was great! (can I call you George?). My interest in theoretical physics is cosmology and sub-atomic physics.
    I emailed physics profs at Toronto, and they said the physics specialist program is fine for theoretical physics, and that third and fourth year one is able to emphasize theoretical physics by taking courses from phys department, and applied math in General Relativity, Quantum, Topology, Diff. Geometry etc..

    I know for first year calculus in the Mathematics & Physics program uses Spivak's Calculus, which I bought a month ago and it is pretty demanding. Although I enjoy math, I struggle with A LOT of the proofs.
    I guess I'll have to think about it.
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2006
  9. Jul 2, 2006 #8

    shmoe

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    It's no easy feat to learn from Spivak on your own. It will be considerably different when you have the professors, TA's, classmates, etc. to consult.

    There doesn't appear to be a huge difference in the specialist math&physics program and the specialist physics program in your first year, just the harder (and more rewarding) math classes. It would probably be possible to go from math/physics over to physics after your first year, but looks harder to go the other way. So you might consider starting in math/phys to see how you like it, consult the department to see how possible switching would be before planning anything though!
     
  10. Jul 3, 2006 #9

    Yeah that sounds good...they said you are allowed to switch math courses by end of October.
     
  11. Jul 3, 2006 #10
    Hi Kid_Electro

    Welcome to PF!

    I am not as experienced as George Jones and OP on this thread, but I can tell you a few things I've learnt recently since I was/am in the same position as you are.

    An undergraduate physics course begins with a lot of mathematics (common to science and engineering): series, sequences, limits, continuity, differentiability, integrals, partial derivatives, multiple integrals, complex analysis, Cauchy-Riemann equations and holomorphic functions, Laplace equation, Fourier series (and maybe Fourier Integral), hyperbolic functions, a bit of numerical analysis and statistics thrown in depending on your program. There may be other topics but these are the main ones.

    Usually what you do in the pre-final and final years is what shapes your interests or specialization (again program-dependent). If you are interested in sub-atomic physics, then a lot of quantum physics and quantum mechanics is necessary, as with particle physics and nuclear physics (related in some ways). In fact, QM is one of the most important things you'll do in UG-ed. There are four other topics which are equally important: Classical Mechanics, Special Relativity,Statistical Mechanics and Electromagnetic Theory. Usually SR is covered under CM. And CM here refers not only to Newton's Laws and what you may have done in school, but also things like Lagrangian and Hamiltonian dynamics which form an integral part of the curriculum. You will need Lagrangian and Hamiltonian in your study of quantum mechanics, condensed matter and even general relativity.

    As for your interest in cosmology, a lot of mathematical grounding goes in before you study General Relativity as a mathematical topic. This shouldn't frighten you as everyone who is interested in GR has to do it to get the hang of the principles and equations mathematically. This includes things like coordinate transformations, four vectors, tensor algebra. But before all that you need to do Classical Electromagnetic Theory including the relativistic electrodynamics. Next comes vectors and tensors in curvilinear coordinates. Now you can jump in to GR and on the way get introduced to Cosmology.

    You don't have to worry about all that jargon though, because you will automatically realize its relevance and use as you move along.

    By the way, (addressed to OP/George), what do cosmologists do nowadays? I mean, is there a different set of cosmologists who work on cosmology without LQG, strings, etc?

    After your generalized undergraduate education in physics, you can chose a particular line of attack for your subsequent interests/research. I think when you come out of the univ, you will (ideally) be good at all the fundamental physics that you were taught unless you chose to overspecialize in some fields over others at the undergrad level itself (I don't think this is always possible though).

    By the way, I always find mathematical aspects of physics more interesting once I have read the motivation behind them from a popsci book. For instance if you do String Theory and have read Brian Greene's book (or equivalent) you have an overview of the whole thing and when you go through the mathematical details, you can figure out for yourself the motivation behind some coefficient or term. I haven't read String Theory myself (!) but I guess this is a good analogy even for things like QM which tend to get too mathematical if you haven't been doing enough QP (quantum physics) :smile: Feynman's Lectures is an excellent starting point and so are the Berkeley Physics volumes.
     
  12. Jul 5, 2006 #11

    George Jones

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    Sure - that's a lot better than what some people call me!

    Differential geometry can be useful in cosmology, and representations of Lie groups and Lie algebras can be useful in subatomic physics. In order to do research in these areas, one doesn't necessarily have to take separate math courses in these subjects. However, some people, including me, enjoy the mathematics.
     
  13. Jul 5, 2006 #12

    George Jones

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    Cosmologists do quite a variety of thing, from observation cosmology to quantum cosmology. Take a look at the Table of Contents for this cosmology text. The blog Cosmic Variance often has a cosmological slant. Here is a nice post about theoretical cosmology, but see the last paragraph for other stuff in cosmology.

    LQG or string theory might come into play in giving an explanation for the acceleration of the universe. The cause of this acceleration has been named dark energy, and many physicists are seeking a fundamental explanation of dark energy. However, it may the case that this acceleration is due to a contant of nature that has no more fundamental explanation, but this a minority view.
     
  14. Jul 5, 2006 #13

    robphy

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  15. Jul 5, 2006 #14
  16. Jul 5, 2006 #15

    robphy

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    If you're going to be in that area, you might want to look into seminars and research opportunities at http://www.perimeterinstitute.ca . It's a very active community... as well as a center attracting lots of research visitors from around the world.
     
  17. Jul 5, 2006 #16
  18. Jul 5, 2006 #17

    Oh thats awesome. We shall keep in touch.
     
  19. Jul 5, 2006 #18
    Yeah, I was looking into the place a while ago, and it seems pretty cool. I think I'll visit the place once I get to waterloo and go on a tour or something

    Definitely. UofT sounds like a great school. In retrospect, I probably should've applied there as well, but I'm happy with my current decision. I've heard good things about UWO science as well, so I think you'll get a top notch education either way.
     
  20. Jul 6, 2006 #19
  21. Jul 6, 2006 #20
    Hello, I'm also in your current situation
    In response to someone saying theres no such thing as majoring in theoretical physics, well I am about to begin my freshmen year at Loyola Univeristy Chicago, and the major I am going into is Theoretical Physics and Applied Mathematics. But i don't assume in anyways that it will be much different than say UT's Math and Physics major, but it does falsify the prevoius statement slightly

    My plan.. so far .. is to do the combined theo phys and applied math major, as well as minor in comp sci and possibly french as well if I have time?

    I'll just have to see how it goes with University math courses
    I'm hoping my location in chicago will make it easier to watch work and hopefully participate in research at the labs near to Chicago such as Argonne or Fermi
     
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