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Calc 1-3 and Diff Equ

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

I'm curious as to whether I can teach myself the theory behind physics if I take these four classes? I'm assuming if somone has a sound math background they can handle physics on their own.

Aslo, would it help a tech major get a job being that most employers see tech majors as being weaker in math than an engineer?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Nabeshin
Science Advisor
2,205
16
I'm assuming if somone has a sound math background they can handle physics on their own.
You'd think this, wouldn't you? But in reality it's not very true at all. I know plenty of math majors who are brilliant at math but have no intuitive grasp of physics whatsoever (and vice-versa). To be any good at physics requires a different mode of thinking from my experience, and it is not necessarily synonymous with the mode of thinking required to succeed in mathematics (especially pure mathematics).
 
  • #3
fluidistic
Gold Member
3,654
100
I'm curious as to whether I can teach myself the theory behind physics if I take these four classes?
I already had a calculus I and II and linear algebra course. Currently taking Vector calculus but I'm having a hard time grasping it. I strongly believe that knowing vector calculus (calculus III) will open new horizons to me. For example knowing about the gradient when dealing with magnetic fields or temperature in a metal bar seems very useful. Of course there are much more examples. And yes, a course about DE seems also of a great use for any physicist.
I'm waiting for other thoughts about it.
 
  • #4
djeitnstine
Gold Member
614
0
I'm assuming if somone has a sound math background they can handle physics on their own.
Not necessarily. As was previously stated, no amount of math can prepare you to fully grasp all of the concepts.

And sure calc 3 helps with some physical applications, however, for obvious reasons not all. I personally know of students very strong in the upper level engineering mathematics however crashed and burned in their physics courses.

Aslo, would it help a tech major get a job being that most employers see tech majors as being weaker in math than an engineer?
What type of tech job do you speak of? Some tech jobs require no more than algebra, others require some knowledge of calculus 1 and the list goes on. And in what way would you be competing against an engineer for a job?
 
  • #5
4
0
You'd think this, wouldn't you? But in reality it's not very true at all. I know plenty of math majors who are brilliant at math but have no intuitive grasp of physics whatsoever (and vice-versa). To be any good at physics requires a different mode of thinking from my experience, and it is not necessarily synonymous with the mode of thinking required to succeed in mathematics (especially pure mathematics).
Oh yeah. I can vouch for that first-hand. I'm by no means the best math student ever, but I can hold my own, usually being at the top 10% of the class without much difficulty. But when I took Physics last quarter, it was a completely different story. I was lucky to be in the top 30% :|.

Though Physics uses math, most of the math used in Physics problems tends to be easy, comparatively, of course (The types of integrals one gets in a Calculus course tend to be more difficult to solve than the type of integrals one gets in a Physics course). The hard part was understanding a lot of the ideas behind the reasoning to perform such operations.

For example, an introductory Mechanics class deals with ideas such as Kinematics, Forces, Momentum, Circular Motion, among other topics. Most of these require little calculus but quite a bit of high school algebra. And you'd expect most kids to know their algebra pretty well, right? I mean it's usually a high school subject. But even so, many kids have trouble in that class. And I believe it's not so much the math but rather the Physics. I mean once you've got the Physics down, it's "simple algebra."

Edit:
To further clarify, if you know math, it helps in the sense that you won't have to worry about learning two subjects at the same time. But knowing math, I don't think, necessarily means that you'll know or learn Physics quickly.
 
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  • #6
445
3
I must protest to a lot of what is said in this thread.

Knowing math, particularily vector calculus and differential equations, makes physics much easier. From what I recall, the hardest part of most physics courses was not really understanding the math. Yes, you still need the time to spend on the physics. But having the math lets you focus on the physics. I will agree though, a strong theoretical background in math is not at all helpful... and may in fact be a hindrance.
 
  • #7
What type of tech job do you speak of? Some tech jobs require no more than algebra, others require some knowledge of calculus 1 and the list goes on. And in what way would you be competing against an engineer for a job?

Well, I'm in a EET major and know that some employers like strict EEs because of their increased math knowledge. This is what I was told anyways. I just want any advantage I can get when applying for a job asking for an EE or EET; I figured this would give me a bit of an edge.
 
  • #8
1,707
5
there's a lot of freshman in this thread. so i'll tell you exactly where you need all those things

calc 1 - everywhere
calc 2 - everywhere
calc 3/multivariable calc - e&m is nothing but this
differential equations - mechanics is nothing but this
linear algebra + differential equations + calc 3 + quantum is nothing but these.
 
  • #9
836
13
I understand where ice109 is coming from. I felt that a lot of physics is simply applying mathematics to reality. If you don't understand the mathematics, you won't get very far. Nowhere did I feel this more than in EM. Without a strong grasp of multivariable calculus and differential equations, you're lost, or so I felt, when I took an Em course very ill-prepared mathematically. As I progressed upwards, I found I deeper understanding of mathematics was needed. But I've dropped physics now, I only went as far as QM.
 
  • #10
74
4
I must protest to a lot of what is said in this thread.

Knowing math, particularily vector calculus and differential equations, makes physics much easier. From what I recall, the hardest part of most physics courses was not really understanding the math. Yes, you still need the time to spend on the physics. But having the math lets you focus on the physics. I will agree though, a strong theoretical background in math is not at all helpful... and may in fact be a hindrance.
Why would it not be helpful ? If anything it helped me a great deal. athematics is the descriptive langauge via which we describe physical properties. The harder part is translating the physics, i.e. the ideas, into a suitable mathematical expresion.
 

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