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Does a physics undergraduate study all physics that he took before ?

  1. Oct 20, 2013 #1
    if i study physics as an undergraduate , do i get to study all the physics i took before in high school ? like fluid dynamics , thermodynamics for instance , do we start from the very beginning ? or am i supposed to have a background on them ?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 20, 2013 #2
    You'll mostly review everything, but you should also have a background on them. The "Introduction" books you'll use as your bibliography are, as the name states, introductory and as such, they'll start by the basics.
     
  4. Oct 20, 2013 #3

    Simon Bridge

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    Both.

    You are expected to have a fairly solid background on them, but the first year course will recap the entire High School syllabus that the college cares about ... only it will happen really fast. There should also be a practical component which is usually more involved than the High School one unless you went to a very good High School.

    You will be surprised at how much you forgot or the school you went to somehow did not cover well enough.
    People from different schools will have different strengths so it is good to hook up with new people.

    You will also be expected to be grounded calculus and stats ... though you will probably be expected to take calc and stats courses anyway - and those will do the same thing.

    People with very good scores in their entry qualifications may get the option to skip the first year.
    The main point is to make sure everyone is up to speed and can handle the college approach to education.
    The details will depend on the college.
     
  5. Oct 20, 2013 #4

    jtbell

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    In the USA, an undergraduate physics program generally does not assume that you have studied physics before. (Except maybe at top-level schools like MIT or Caltech.) Most physics students do study some physics in high school, but it's often a course that does not use calculus, whereas an undergraduate program starts with a calculus-based introductory physics course.

    In other countries, the situation may be different.

    Also, you will study the "core" subjects repeatedly, at higher levels of sophistication. I studied classical mechanics and E&M four times:

    1. in high school (no calculus)
    2. in an introductory undergraduate course (with calculus)
    3. in an intermediate-level undergraduate course (with differential equations)
    4. in graduate school
     
  6. Oct 20, 2013 #5

    Simon Bridge

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    Really?! I've been hearing about the US HS system.
    In New Zealand and , to my knowledge, most (British) Commonwealth nations you cannot get into a core physics course without, at least, passing senior secondary qualifications in physics and the math+calc.

    Even so, the standard of new entrants varies so much that the review is needed.
    The entire senior curriculum is usually covered in the first half of each paper. There's usually a mix of stuff students won't have seen in secondary school too.
     
  7. Oct 20, 2013 #6

    BruceW

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    In uk too, there is not a lot of calculus/differential equations (in the physics classroom) before undergraduate. It is mostly elementary algebra in the physics classes. Having said that, there is calculus in the maths classes. And most students learn how to use complex numbers before starting undergraduate. So I think maybe the government's idea is to get students comfortable with the maths of differentiation first, before letting them use it on physics problems.

    edit: when I say calculus, I just mean the basics of differentiation and integration, like the product and chain rule, e.t.c. So I think pre-undergraduate students are definitely 'equipped' with enough mathematics to be able to do some physics problems using differentiation. But I don't think they actually do many of those kinds of physics problems before undergraduate.
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2013
  8. Oct 20, 2013 #7

    Simon Bridge

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    That's what happens here - only final year secondary students will see the calculus representation of physics since the math is taught the year before and how much will be at the teacher's discretion.
     
  9. Oct 20, 2013 #8

    jtbell

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    Yes, the "standard" high school physics course in the US does not use calculus. Many (but not all) high schools also offer a calculus-based "AP physics" course. If a student does well enough on a standardized "AP exam" at the end of the course, many (but not all) colleges and universities will give the student course credit for their first-year calculus-based introductory physics course.

    I took two years of physics in high school more than forty years ago. Neither of them used calculus. This was before AP courses existed or were common; my high school didn't offer them, at any rate. I did take calculus in high school, and did well enough in it that my college allowed me to skip the first semester of their three-semester calculus course. But I didn't start doing calculus-based physics until college.

    These sorts of differences between countries make me feel frustrated when someone asks a question like the one that started this thread, without giving any idea what country he or she is in. :frown:
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2013
  10. Oct 20, 2013 #9

    Astronuc

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    Well, in my experience (I took high school physics nearly 40 years ago in US), there was no (and still isn't a) 'standard' high school physics course/program. It varies so much from state to state, city to city, even high school to high school in the same urban school district, that there is effectively no 'standard', and hasn't been as long as I've been around.

    My high school probably had the best math and science program in the city, outside of the private high schools. We had one year of physics, calculus taught in the senior (4th/final) year, and an option to take two years of chemistry or biology. One had to 'qualify' to take calculus, and only about 4-5% of students in the final year took the course, and many of those students did physics and 2 years of chemistry.

    One could take physics during one's junior year, but that was unusual (a close friend did just that), otherwise one took it senior year. I took the honors level course which had a smattering of calculus as it was taught concurrently with calculus and 2nd year chemistry. In the first year of chemistry we were introduced to differential equations because of the reaction rate equations and changing concentrations. During the junior year, the honors level program had a second year of Algebra with Trig (and some analytical geometry), and some introductory material on limits/derivatives, so it was essentially pre-calculus.

    The inclusion of calculus in physics often depends on the teacher. The year before I took physics, the class was taught by a PhD from Caltech. He was a brilliant teacher. Unfortunately, he left, and the teacher I had was apparently working on an MS degree, and he didn't really teach effectively. We however did use a college level introductory textbook for physics, and as I recall, it didn't use much calculus, if at all.

    Anyway, getting back to the OP, private schools (as jtbell indicated) may assume that one has a good grounding in math and physics, which is often the case for those applying to such schools (in my experience). On the other hand, at state/public schools, I've experienced such disparity among high school students (from those with no calculus or physics through those with calculus and physics), so the university had basic introductory math/calculus and physics for the lowest level students. Otherwise, universities may have remedial/pre-calculus courses for those who haven't had it in high school.
     
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