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Calculus in Physics (Pertaining to Physics majors)

  1. Feb 27, 2008 #1
    Hey guys, I am a physics major and currently enrolled in Physics with Calculus I at my local community college. I am planning on transferring to my local university this fall semester 2008. Anyhow, I have noticed that there is still not much calculus being used in terms of Physics with Calculus I except for cases such as velocity, acceleration, work, spring force, etc. I am also enrolled in Calculus 3 and will be taking Differential Equations in the summer semester 2008. Anyhow, I had no prior experience with Calculus whatsoever until spring semester 2007 in college unlike some of my fellow classmates who did take it during high school. I know my basic derivatives, integration, etc. However, I feel as if the teacher I had for calculus did not teach it well enough and I am sure not going to retake the class all over again. I purchased some additional books pertaining to calculus problems to further my knowledge of the materials. My question is, how much calculus do you really need to know to be a physics major? My eventual goal is to teach college physics by the way. Any ideas? My college algebra is great and my calculus I would say is average. I know that you do not have to be a super genius at math to understand physics. Like my teacher always says, even if you make all "A's" in calculus, does not necessarily guarantee an A in physics.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 27, 2008 #2
    Calculus will be used more heavily after your first course in physics. Even in your 2nd course you'll start doing integration around a cantor, maybe some differential equations, but it does pick up. After those two courses, the math you will see will be heavily involved in calculus.

    You need to know what calculus ideas mean in physics. That's the most important thing. If asked to find the maximum of a value you should think derivative. It all comes in time and generally it takes a few encounter outside of calculus to get a hang of all the ideas.
  4. Feb 27, 2008 #3
    Really? So what type of physics uses multivariable calculus?
  5. Feb 27, 2008 #4
    Ever had to work with Schrodinger Equation in spherical coordinates?
  6. Feb 27, 2008 #5


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    Staff: Mentor

    E&M is chock full of div, grad and curl, and line and surface integrals, at least at the intermediate level (e.g. Griffiths) and above. Even at the introductory "physics with calculus" level, you usually get line and surface integrals in qualitative form, so you can learn about Gauss's Law, Ampere's Law, etc. in integral form, using examples that are symmetric enough that you can evaluate them without actually having to do a "real integral."

    Check out these E&M lecture notes to get an idea of what goes on in an E&M course.
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2008
  7. Feb 27, 2008 #6
    If you are currently enrolled in Calc 3, PAY ATTENTION!
    this is something I did not do, now when I am in my E&M class I find myself having to relearn things.
    Become friends with Grad, Div, Curl and all forms of Integration (surface, contour or line, volume...)
    And most importantly try to really really understand alternate orthogonal coordinate systems like spherical and cylindrical. You will use them immensely in later physics courses like E&M specifically.
    All too frequently in E&M I have to look up how what dV is for spherical, or dA for surface of a cylinder, just to do an integral
  8. Feb 27, 2008 #7
    I'm currently in Cal III. I've noticed that you have to be a bit creative in solving some of the LaGrange multipliers and Extrema. I'm doing all right in the class so far. I got an 87 on my first exam, but I should have gotten an A! - you know, silly/careless mistakes were made and all...
  9. Feb 29, 2008 #8
    Calc III is where the action happens. Many students have to take Calc I & II for a wide variety of degrees. So the juicy part of calculus physics was pushed back to Calc III. This way other people wouldn't be forced to take the physics based stuff... at least that is how it was explained to me.
  10. Mar 1, 2008 #9
    Look at the Shey text, "Div, Grad, Curl and All That" (Amazon link).

    I found it helpful when I realized that our Calc II and III classes didn't really cover what I needed to know for E&M...
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