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Do I need to be a double major?

  1. Aug 3, 2005 #1
    I'm a physics major (undergrad) right now. It seems like almost everyone else that I know who's a physics major is also a math major. I can see how that might make sense, since they share so many requirements. But on the other hand, I just don't like math classes that much, and I don't really want to take a bunch of extra ones. Do you think I should go ahead and double major, or will it be alright for me to remain just a physics major?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 3, 2005 #2


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    1. You should never do something just because everyone else is doing it.

    2. If double major is required to do physics, why would there even be such a thing as a physics major in the first place?

    3. Do not let the means becomes an end. You want to be a physicist? Then find ways to be one. Don't find ways to instead to a double major just for the sake of doing a double major, or someone else tells you to.

    4. Check if your school has a class in mathematical physics. This should give you a lot of the math you need as an undergraduate physics major, and is useful especially if you don't like mathematics all that much.

    5. If Point 4 is not possible, get "Mathematical Methods in the Physical Science" by Mary Boas (Wiley). You can thank me later after you get your degree for recommending this.

  4. Aug 3, 2005 #3
    ha, I was recently seriously considering tacking on a math major to supplement my physics major, but since both the physics program and math programs are small at my university, it is a pain in the ass to make it work out right, sicne both programs only offer certain classes every 2 years, and sometimes there are serious conflicts that arise.

    So, I've scrapped the idea of getting the math degree, and I am just going to pick up a minor in math. All I will need are 6 more credits (2 more classes) for the math minor...I plan on taking a differential geometry course and PDE. Are these good math courses to take to supplement physics in addition to the math required for physics (calc 1-3, diffEQ, adv. engineering math, linear alg, prob/stats)

    Also, since I was previously a chem major (for a little while), I have chem classes floating around, and I will take one more 3 credit hour physical chemistry course to complete a chemistry minor. I may take both physical chem 1 and 2 just for the hell of it. Too bad most of my chem classes are organic chem, so they are pretty much worthless....

    So I will graduate with a BS in physics, with a minor in math and a minor in chem. I may take some useful ME classes too (like engineering thermo, statics/dynamics, and heat transfer...)
  5. Aug 3, 2005 #4
    I was told by the chair of the natural sciences department that the advanced engineering math course that is offered here is the same as a mathematical physics course. In fact, physics majors are required to take it. Is this true?

    "Prerequisite: MCS2423. Laplace transforms of continuous and piecewise continuous functions, inverse Laplace transforms, applications to ordinary differential equations. Complex variables, analytic functions, Laurent expansions, residue theory with applications, complex inversion integral and convolution integral. Lect. 3 hrs. 3 hours credit"
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2005
  6. Aug 3, 2005 #5
    Oh, and one more question....am I losing anything by not having thermal physics, and taking physical chem 1 and 2 instead? the natsci chair said that he'd waive thermal physics if I took physical chem 1 and 2....

    oh, and my school doesn't offer statistical dynamics....is this a problem? should I look into a directed study with a physics prof to study this material? is not having thermal physics going to keep me from studying this, as I am aware thermal physics is a pre-req to statistical mechanics. Are there any mechanical engineering equivalent courses that coudl give me the knowledge I need?
  7. Aug 3, 2005 #6
    I would say that it would be better to have a physicist teach you thermodynamics, since physics thermodynamics is very different from chemistry thermodynamics. As for the statistical mechanics, I would say it depends on what you want to do. You could probably get by with a limited knowledge of the subject for undergrad, since you'd likely get it hard in grad school anyway. But then it would make things easier later to make things harder now.

    I would recommend studying statistical mechanics on your own, except I have yet to find a really good introduction to the subject; they all either gloss over the math and make really nonrigorous physical arguments or they become a quagmire of integral formulas in the middle of solving the problem. My advice would be to purchase the Feynman Statistical Mechanics book published by Advanced Book Classics. I think it's one of the better books out there for the subject, even though it doesn't have any problems and becomes almost unreadable at points in the later chapters.
  8. Aug 3, 2005 #7
    What if I took "engineer thermodynamics" instead of a thermal physics course, since I probably won't get to take that as it is offered rarely. :(
  9. Aug 3, 2005 #8
    Those are very good points ZapperZ. I'm not so worried about not being a math major anymore. Oh, and my school does have a class in mathematical physics. It's called "mathematical physics," oddly enough. It's not required, but I'll definitely take it.
  10. Aug 3, 2005 #9


    no point in doing something you don't want to do--especially if you're paying for it. good choice with the class; it will probably provide exactly what you need.

    out of curiosity, can you copy-paste the course description?
  11. Aug 3, 2005 #10


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    The problem here is that you are offering questions like this with the assumption that (i) there is a "standard" course content attached to something like engineer thermodynamics and that (ii) we know what it is.

    Based on what *I* know and not what is offered at your school, thermodynamics offered to engineers do not approach the coverage of various areas of thermodynamics that a physicist need. For example, we do not deal much in "steam tables", something engineers could spend weeks studying. And on the other side, engineers, at least in a standard undergrad thermo class, very seldom come across the Maxwell relations of transforming one state variable to another.

    You would do better taking an independent study. I am actually quite surprised your school does not have thermo class for undergraduates in physics. On the other hand, when students first enroll in a graduate program, the undergraduate class that most of them tend to enroll in to brush up for their qualifying exam is thermo/stat. mech. So maybe either many schools do not offer such course, or the students didn't take them, or they find their grasps of this subject is weak to warrant a refresher course.

  12. Aug 3, 2005 #11
    they offer a "thermal physics" course, it just might be difficult to get the course, since it is only offered every 2 years. I was just wondering if the thermodynamics class engineers take is close to thermal physics physicists take.
  13. Aug 3, 2005 #12
    To the original statement, I felt the same way for a little while, I decided to take pure physics honours as a major, but found many people were opting to take a joint math/ physics, but as I looked at the requirements of both I realized I would have to miss out on some of the more fun physics courses that math double majors can't take due to thier extra math course load. I like math, but only as a means to an end, and for me that is physics, so I take the math I need to be able to do all the physics that I do.
    If your passion is physics don't feel pressured into taking a double major, as you may miss out on some great extra physics courses.
  14. Aug 3, 2005 #13
    well, i don't know what school you're at, but... i'll post the course descriptions for thermal physics and thermodynamics (for engineers)...

    PHY 3513 Thermal Physics 1
    Credits: 3; Coreq: PHY 2049, or equivalent.
    First part of sequence PHY 3513-4523. Treatment of classical thermodynamics including fundamental postulates, entropy, equations of states. Thermodynamic equilibrium and potentials, Maxwell relations, phase transitions. (P)

    EML 3100 Thermodynamics
    Credits: 3; Prereq: CHM 2045, MAC 2313 or PHY 2048.
    Application of the first and second laws of thermodynamics to closed and open systems and to cyclic heat engines. This includes the development of procedures for calculating the properties of multiphase and singlephase pure substances.
  15. Aug 4, 2005 #14


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    See? I wasn't just making things up as I go along!


  16. Aug 4, 2005 #15
    Second ZapperZ's point on Boas. Top book.
  17. Aug 4, 2005 #16
    my school uses arken and weber. i've read the first chapter, and it's a pretty difficult read.... :grumpy:
  18. Aug 4, 2005 #17


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    If this "arken" is Afken, and if "arfken and weber" is the newer edition of the popular Afken Mathematical Physics text, then yes, it IS more advanced. Not many undergraduates can go through it till maybe their senior year, and by then, it's too late to be of help in many physics classes. That is why I recommended the Boas text very highly. It is meant for 2nd year students who have finished a year's worth of calculus and differential geometry and maybe some diff. eq. It teaches you almost all the math one would see in a QM and E&M class, so that the first time one comes across the word "orthornormal" or "spherical harmonics", etc., one would know what it means.

    I have stated my recommendations for this book elsewhere. One can go read it if desired.

  19. Aug 4, 2005 #18
    As requested, here is the course description for the mathematical physics class:

    "Applications of modern mathematical methods to problems in mechanics and modern physics. Techniques include application of partial differential equations and complex variables to classical field problems in continuous mechanics, electrodynamics, hydrodynamics, and heat flow. Applications of elementary transformation theory and group theory to selected problems in modern physics. (Same as PHSX 418.)"

    I don't know what book it uses though- it's not even being offered this semester.
  20. Aug 4, 2005 #19
    Can anyone answer this?
  21. Aug 4, 2005 #20
    yes, arfken! :redface:

    yeah, the text does seem a bit advanced, but...it's the one that the university of florida phys department uses for its "introduction to theoretical physics" course.

    i guess i'll ask about why we don't use the boas text instead.
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