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Best self study physics curriculum?

  1. Jul 6, 2012 #1
    Hi everybody, I've been out of school for 4 years and I'd like to learn some physics.
    I'll give a summary of my background and I'd like suggestions as to what I should study and in what order. There's an abundance of resources that can be found through Google, but it's hard to decide what is and is not worth pursuing and in what order they ought to be pursued. I'm hoping someone who's already been there will grant me some pointers.

    So here are the math and physics courses I took in college:

    Physics I and II with calculus: Calculus based physics intro. Newtons's laws, work and energy, momentum and impulse, rotational dynamics, acoustic vibrations, thermodynamics, electricity, magnetism, basic circuits, Maxwell's equations, electromagnetic waves and geometrical optics. I remember learning the stuff but remember very little of the stuff on electricity and magnetism.

    Calc. 1-3: A standard calculus sequence covering limits, continuity, differentiation, integration, sequences and series, vector integration and differentiation, functions of several variables, double and triple integrals and a small sprinkling of vector anlysis including path and surface integrals.

    Discrete mathematics: Standard compsci oriented lower division sampler pack. Turned me on to math.

    Differential Equations: The usual course in ODEs taken by science majors. Separation of variables, integrating factors, constant coefficients, variation of parameters, series solutions, and laplace transforms.

    Linear Algebra: linear systems, gauss jordan elimination, properties of matrices, vector spaces, linear maps, dot products and orthogonality, eigenvectors and eigenvalues.

    Number Theory: How to solve linear diophantine equations, uniqueness of prime factorization, how to work with and solve congruences, chinese remainder theorem, fermat's little theorem. Can't remember much of it, it's a blur.

    Graph Theory: ...purged from my memory. Something about Konigsberg and taking a walk.

    Combinatorics: Pigeonhole principle, combinations and permutations, binomial coefficients, inclusion exclusion, recurrence relations.

    Math Stats: discrete and continuous probability, survey of useful distrubutions and probability densities along with their properties. Very fuzzy memory.

    Intro to Adv. Math: Bridge course on logic and proofs. Covered naive set theory, predicate logic, functions and relations.

    Advaned Calculus: First six chapters of baby Rudin. Class was weak, book was hard, prof pitched to LCD, learned very little.

    Complex Variables: Complex numbers, functions of a complex argument, differentiation, path integration, the integral theorems, power series, laurent series. Learned little for same reason as in adv. calc.

    Partial Differential Equations: The use of separation of variables and Fourier series to solve boundary value problems.

    Algebraic Structures: Groups and rings.

    Topics in Algebraic Structures: More rings and modules.

    Axiomatic Set Theory: ZF axioms, ordinals, cardinals. I had the hardest time with this one. Earned a C. I have no intuition in this area, can't visualize.

    If you've read this much you have my supreme gratitude. The descriptions became terser near the end as I grew tired of typing. So, based on my background, what would be the best way for me to self-study the physics contnent of the usual undergraduate curriculum?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 6, 2012 #2
    Well if you've forgotten all about it, it seems wise to start again with one of those big introductory physics books, with like 50 chapters and covering a whole load but with no depth. On the other hand, I think that's pretty boring and it might very well wane your interest, which is crucial in self-study. It's a personal thing I suppose, but if you feel like taking the challenge, you can start with a more decent book. I'd say a book in classical mechancis or in electrodynamics. Concerning the first, I don't feel like I can give a proper suggestion, but for the second Griffiths seems obvious: he's gentle to the starter, being very familiar with the reader, easing him into the necessary math (which might be welcome in your case if it's been a while) and I think his electrodynamics book is pretty darn good and if you go through it all you've acquired a decent amount of knowledge on the topic; most importantly it makes it fun.

    After that I think you're ready for quantum mechanics. Again I can't give you a good suggestion, since I didn't like the book we used. I sometimes looked into Griffiths' book on QM, and some sections were really helpful, but all in all I didn't like the vibe of the book. I suppose you can find good suggestions on this forum (beware though that you don't start with too complex a book; QM is hard enough as it is, you need a good conceptual introduction).

    I think that's a good start, maybe others can correct me (or add).
  4. Jul 6, 2012 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    There's an AP level book by Tsokos for intro physics that you can buy. There are also some online intro physics ebooks most notably at www.lightandmatter.com by Benjamin Crowell.

    And lastly there are some online courses by MIT and other schools that teach Intro, QM, CM and EM...

    Finally you could check out Khans Academy for short expositions on topics in physics and math.
  5. Jul 7, 2012 #4
    I think it would do good for you to start with An Introduction to Mechanics by Kleppner and Kolenkow. After that Purcell's Electricity and Magnetism and Vibrations and Waves by A. P. Frence will be a great choices. I have never read one of those big books on general physics. All I needed to understand those two was the computational knowledge required from Calculus. But you got the math covered.
  6. Jul 7, 2012 #5
    Thanks for the suggestions everyone. I think I'm just going to try to jump in to a mechanics textbook written for upper division undergrads and I'll also read one of those math for physics books to jog my memory. In the later category names like Arfken and Weber as well as Mary Boas keep coming up.
  7. Jul 7, 2012 #6
    I can throw-in some text suggestions based on the ones I liked for my upper-level physics courses. Assuming you still remember a majority of the material you listed, the math will cause very little problems. I suggest you have one of those 1500 page textbooks like Giancoli or Halliday/Resnick or Tipler/Mosca for reference if you feel a proper intro is missing in the upper-level books.

    Classical Mechanics: I liked Taylor. Morin is also good, especially as a source of problems.

    E&M: Certainly get Wangsness' "Electromagnetic Fields". Griffiths' book is also good but Wangsness is slightly more mathematical which I personally prefer.

    Quantum Mechanics: Get Zettili's book. Balakrishnan's lectures on youtube are also great. Avoid Griffiths at all costs. You could also try going straight into Shankar but I haven't read it so I'm not sure how good of an idea that is (he does mention in the preface that the book doesn't require a lot of prereqs).

    I haven't taken Statistical Mechanics yet but Kittel/Kromer seems to be the standard book although a friend of mine was complaining about it a lot.
  8. Jul 8, 2012 #7
    Okay, so I think I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to get the Intro To Physics Books by A.P. French, Mathematical Tools for Physics by James Nearing (Dr. Nearing is a distant acquiantance, but a super coold dude, so that's why I chose his book.) and Electricity and Magnetism by Purcell. I'm not going to get them all at once. I'll get the math physics, the book on mechanics and the book on Special Relativity first. My only concern is due to the fact that Amazon does not allow me to look through the contents of Newtonian Mechanics by A.P. French. Does the word "Newtonian" in the title mean that the book is about pre-relativistic mechanics, or does it mean that the book focuses on a force only approach and neglects Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations?
  9. Jul 8, 2012 #8
    Gereard 't Hooft has a pretty good list to check off

    Newtonian usually means without relativity and quantum mechanics. It may or may not neglect lagrangian and hamiltonian formulations but really they are both equivelant to newtons equations so you couldn't say that they are non newtonian.
  10. Jul 8, 2012 #9


    Staff: Mentor

    what about Goldstein for Classical Mechanics? I thought it was one of the best treatments on the subject.
  11. Jul 8, 2012 #10
    Goldstein is good
    I prefer Landau and Lifgarbagez myself (Goldestein covers more material though, I just find that L&L is easier to learn from)
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