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Calculator for physics studies

  1. Hi!
    I was wondering if a graphing calculator (like the HP 50g, which really "turns me on") is really necessary for studying physics. I guess you're not counting much in these courses, you're just going to operate on a's and x's while using a simple calculator just to get the exact result at the end.
    Do I need to have such a calculator for my physics studies? Will it help me, will it improve my studies or would it just make everything harder? What do you think?
  2. jcsd
  3. mgb_phys

    mgb_phys 8,952
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Do you need one for a physics course - no.
    Can you use a physics course to justify buying one - yes !
  4. I guess I won't be buying one if I don't need it, then.. It's not really cheap.
  5. It is the price of a textbook (actually, half the price of some of the more expensive ones). It has an equation library full of many geometric and physics equations, and built-in constants.

    It has a fairly good Computer Algebra System that can accomplish most of what you might be likely to need to do with a program like Mathematica (although slower and much more cumbersome).

    Do you "need" it? No, not really. But it can help you replace an equation table, a constant table, a scientific calculator, a unit conversion table, et cetera. It's ability to formulate equations as "pretty print" makes it more difficult to make a mistake than if you have to convert your written equations into machine order of operations.

    I doubt it will help you with your studies, but it might give you an edge on a test, but the downside is that you could become too reliant on it, and the HP-50 has a fairly steep learning curve to access some of its more advanced functions, so, depending on your current level of knowledge, I would factor in at least 2-10 hours of time to get acquainted with its basic functionality.
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