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Aspiring Engineering major looking for general answers

  1. Nov 19, 2009 #1
    Hello there. I'm taking my first physics course which happens calc-based physics (Mechanics) this semester. I just finished reading about rotation of rigid bodies (angular momentum, velocity, etc) and I was wondering which topics in calc-based physics 1 I should understand thoroughly that are most important/relative to engineering. I still haven't decided which engineering field I'm going to study (I'm at a community college), but interested in Aerospace or Mechanical/Electrical. I'm planning to self study over the winter break as I feel I do not understand physics very well and will very much like to (it fascinates me, but it's a bit overwhelming sometimes). Any advice will be highly appreciated- I'm really determined to spend the time understanding physics. Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 20, 2009 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    Welcome to the PF, Matt. It's a great place.

    I can recommend a couple of books, but I'm not sure they are 100% on-target for what you want. Still, they are good to consider for their merits, and hopefully others will chime in with more calc/physics type books that are good for self-study.

    This is a fun book that is pretty elementary, but still has lots of good info, and is a quick read with some thought-provoking stuff thrown in: "Thinking Physics" by Epstein:


    And this is a very good intro book to electronics and basic EE stuff: "The Art of Electronics" by Horowitz and Hill:


    Read both cover-to-cover over break, and you will be chomping at the bit to get back to school. :biggrin:
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  4. Dec 5, 2009 #3
    Hi Matt. You should talk to some different engineers and ask for curriculums. There are different types of engineers who focus on different sciences, but all are usually somewhat broad. For example, Mechanical Engineering programs train you to design/engineer mechanical and thermal systems, so the core undergraduate curriculum in that major has a lot of solid mechanics, kinematics/dynamics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid mechanics, and of course design. All of this is on top of courses in fundamental physics and chemistry. On the other hand, chemical and electrical engineers probably take no true mechanics courses but they focus on things like kinetics and electromagnetism, respectively.

    It's important to remember that majors like aerospace engineering, welding engineering, and other majors that aren't the traditional engineering disciplines are just combinations of the different fields. Aerospace engineers get trained in the same kind of thermodynamics as mechanical engineers, but they might spend more time on gas dynamics and instrumentation labs than MEs. On the other hand, civil engineers work on the structural and environmental side of things, so they have plenty of static materials mechanics and design but less dynamics, thermo, and heat transfer.
  5. Dec 5, 2009 #4
    Quite literally, every single one of them. The same goes for math. I have used every single concept from Calc I-III (and others) for my engineering courses. Master the first two years of courses to have a good foundation for success. In many ways, you are in a good position being in a CC where you have more interaction with your teachers now, unlike a 4-year college where the teachers don't care about how you do. Take advantage of this.
  6. Dec 5, 2009 #5


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    This is such a tough question to answer because you have one class to compare to a huge area of study. Personally I wouldn't get too worried about it yet.

    However, IMO, I would say to mimic engineering curricula and start understand the very basics above all. The basics make the more advanced stuff easier to grasp. To start, I would say to make absolutely sure you understand vectors and their applications. Since you are just beginning you are not exposed to vector calculus, but that will be monumental for you to understand in the future. Perhaps next step would be to really understand basic calculus and the applications of derivatives. In my experience, remembering math stuff has tripped me up more than once. If I had a dollar for every time I should have remembered how a Taylor series expansion is performed...

    Don't get too caught up in this. You have time. Stick with the very basics right now. Don't try to think too far into the future. You will just cloud things up and confuse yourself.
  7. Dec 8, 2009 #6
    I agree with both of these answers. You will need to know, at one time or another, just about everything that you learn in mechanics. Most notably, vectors and derivatives.
    But, just try to get a "feel" for how these things work. Memorizing equations is only for exams. Instead just try to grasp concepts and understand how things work. In the real world you can reference equations all day long, but no is going to tell you which equations you need, that is what engineers are for.
    And good luck to you in your studies. I started out in a community college and ended up with a masters from one of the top 10 Aerospace Schools in the world. You, and only you will determine how far you will go in life.
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