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Basic requirements to start a course in electrodynamics

  1. Sep 26, 2012 #1
    I'm in my third year of undergraduate physics and i'm wondering what i'd need in order to start my course on electrodynamics on my own.

    thanks in advance.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 26, 2012 #2
    Electrodynamics is usually taught as a graduate course. You need to be very familiar with vector calculus, and will need some understanding of tensors and tensor calculus. You'll also need some background in special relativity. Also you should really have a good understanding of maxwell's equations and the general form of Coloumb's law.

    Take a look at the textbook by Jackson, it's pretty standard for a lot of schools.
  4. Sep 27, 2012 #3
    Dear God. You start out with Jackson? Even in a graduate course
    using Jackson usually requires the professor to do a lot of professing.
    It is, in my experience, the standard but not because it's easy going
    more because it's encyclopedic.

    nearlynothing, what's your background? Have you had an undergraduate
    course in E-M? What text did you use? How did you do? Are you comfortable
    with all the math dipole suggested? Third year doesn't mean that much to me.
    What are your goals for self study?
  5. Sep 27, 2012 #4


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    Jackson is a very good book but it's too detailed for the beginner. It can be read for special questions on the side.

    For sure for a first lecture, which imho is clearly undergraduate (in Germany it's taught in the 2nd year, or 3rd-4th semester), you don't need all the details on electrostatics before you learn the dynamics. Also relativity is not a must, but indeed a good theoretical exposition of the subject is relatistic, because Maxwell's theory is a relativistic theory.

    To start with, I'd recommend the Feynman Lectures, which are elementary but give a very concise physical picture of electromagnetic phenomena, including the relativistic aspects, where a relativistic treatment helps to prevent troubles one usually encounters with oldfashioned textbooks (e.g., the Faraday's disk, unipolar machine/generator, Faraday's and Feynman's disk, etc.).

    Another very good book, but more at the level of Jackson and not so much in the main stream way to present things is

    Julian Schwinger et al, Classical electrodynamics

    There you find marvelous mathematical tricks by a master of the subject (Schwinger did research not only in QED for which he is famous but also in the classical theory, mostly on waveguides).

    Two of my favorites, which however have the disadvantage of using the pseudo-Euclidean convention for relativity (i.e., setting [itex]x_4=\mathrm{i} c t[/itex] instead of using the indefinite Minkowski metric on a real four-dimensional affine space) are

    A. Sommerfeld, Lectures on Theoretical Physics, Vol. 3 (Electrodynamics) and Vol. 4 (Optics)

    R. Becker, Electromagnetic Fields and Interactions

    The latter book contains also a nice introduction to the necessary vector analysis on [itex]\mathbb{R}^3[/itex].
  6. Sep 27, 2012 #5
    You need to be aware of special relativity, understand electromagnetism and have a basic grasp of tensor calculus.

    Griffiths was the perfect book for me. Jackson seemed very hard work and probably best left as a reference/examples book, at least for a beginner.
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