Best introduction to upper-level physics courses?

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Main Question or Discussion Point

I'm about to enter college as an Electrical Engineering student, but I am considering changing my major to physics. Before I commit, however, I would like to take an advanced physics course (QM, Classical Mechanics II, Thermodynamics, etc.) so that I can get a feel for the mathematical rigor of being a physics major and gauge how interested I really am in the subject matter. Is there a course I can take that I will be able to complete as a freshman, but which will still be difficult and similar to junior or senior level courses? I've taken Calc I and II, introductory classical mechanics and electromagnetism, and have a basic understanding of multi-variable calculus.

For bonus points, how practical/doable is a double major in EE and Physics?
 

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  • #2
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Modern Physics. It is a course typically geared for sophomores/juniors depending on the course frequency and should give you a pretty good overview of what your upper level physics courses will be like. It would be (very) helpful if you'd had differential equations prior to taking. Likewise all of the other typical junior/senior level courses require at minimum a good grounding in differential equation (ordinary and partial). That being said, you could probably survive the first semester of electromagnetic theory (provided they use Griffiths book) but Classical Mechanics II (the first junior level course in your case) would be much more difficult. QM is out of the question: CM -> QM (there are exceptions). Thermodynamics/Intro. Stat. Mech. is actually possible but as the trend in teaching this course is to include semiclassical and quantum results you might be confused without prior familiarity. Math Methods, despite the name, is actually possible (although it is not really a physics course) although encountering differential equations for the first time in this class could be quite terrifying. Most of the other upper level course require the above as prereqs (Nuclear, Particle, Optics, Solid State, etc.).

BTW, Many universities offer the Modern Physics course in a slightly lower level called University Physics 3 intended to follow introductory mechanics and electromagnetism courses without break. When I was an undergraduate Modern Physics was the make or break course as to wheter you had what it takes to earn an UG physics degree.


Double Degree in Physics/EE is a natural. No problem although it may take you an extra year to complete the extra coursework.

Source: UG Physics & Engineering Physics (mostly EE)
 
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  • #3
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Thanks, that helps alot.
 
  • #4
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I agree with deskswirl. However, I think you could take an Optics course with the amount of math and physics that you currently have. I took junior/senior level optics as a sophomore (using the book 'Optics' by Hecht) concurrently with Differential Equations and Modern Physics and did just fine. This is also a useful course for an EE major. It is suggested that you first take upper level E&M before optics, but you can learn the E&M wave mechanics as you go and the math isn't quite as rigorous as E&M, CM, or QM. In my experience, the course was much more focused on phenomena such as interference, diffraction, polarization, a little geometrical optics, and applications such as lasers. Our course had a lab section that helped a lot with building intuition. It was a great class and a good intro to 'upper-level' physics.
 
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