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Does Physics Come Naturally ?

  1. Nov 14, 2005 #1
    Im doing a physics degree, or more accurately im doing a double degree of aerospace engineering and science (majoring in physics), and physics is what i want to go on with. i read a lot of books, i enjoy it so so much and find extremely fascinating.

    but...over the past couple of months, leading up to my physics final today i have noticed something which i find a little concerning.....

    when i do my math, (calculus and algebra), i do not have any trouble really. i seem to understand things quickly, and i do not have much difficulty when it comes to applying concepts to problems. the same is with when i do chemistry, i dont find it terrible difficult, yes they are both challenging subjects, but i am able to work through them.

    When i do physics, it is a different scenario. i have to work so much more at it just to cement concepts and formulae, and i find myself struggling to apply these to problems.

    when i look back, i find myself for maybe every hour i spend on maths, i need to spend maybe three to cover the same amount of work in physics....

    i guess the challenge associated with physics might be part of what makes it so interesting to me, but i do sit here now and wonder...Is this going to be a problem later on when i continue even further into my education in physics...or, is this just temporary, will it even itself out over time...?

    Maybe this is an over simplification, but i wonder if the idea of things coming naturally applies. if subjects like math and chem come naturally to me, will it be a problem that physics doesnt seem to...?


    is the idea of something coming naturally a croc, and to really do well at something it simply requires lots of hard work (something i am always prepared to do)..?

    ps. I might add

    im not asking if its a problem that im not getting good marks, because quite frankly, im not...(the only thing i havent got an HD (>85) is my physics prac mark), my point is i have a lot more trouble in trying to understand and apply physics....
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 14, 2005 #2
    Where are you doing the aerospace engineering and physics double degree bartie?
  4. Nov 14, 2005 #3
    If I understand you correctly, you find math to be easy, so you wonder why it takes you more time to figure out physics problems. I've had similar problems. In my opinion, physics forces you to be creative with your math. Physics problems are not purely math problems. Plus depending on what physics you are currently studying, things can be counterintuitive. If I were you, I wouldn't worry about what you're experiencing. You'll eventually get a feel for the problems and they won't take you as long.
  5. Nov 14, 2005 #4

    Im in Australia, doing my degree at Adelaide University
  6. Nov 14, 2005 #5
    What physics classes are you taking currently? Actually, what are all of the classes you are taking currently?
    I am having the same problem, but I am probably at a much lower level than you. I am currently in my first semester of a Engineering program (Chemical Engineering). I love physics too, but I find it to be the hardest class to grasp the concepts in. Well, not actually to understand the concepts, but it is extremely difficult for me to apply them to probelms.
  7. Nov 15, 2005 #6
    No. And I say that as a physics graduate student.

    It just takes practice, lotsa lotsa practice. Afterwhile, with sufficient practice and experience, you internalize the concepts.
  8. Nov 15, 2005 #7

    ive only just finished first year so ive only taken 2 semesters of it...subjects i took this year were....

    sem I
    mathematics 1A (this is really two courses in one, we have twice as many lectures, half for calculus, half for algebra)
    Physics 1A
    Chem 1A
    Engineering comp. (intro to C++ programming)

    sem II
    mathematics 1B (again, this is really two courses in one, we have twice as many lectures, half for calculus, half for algebra)
    Physics 1B
    Chem 1B
    Materials I

    its very broad first year, so much so im considering dropping the engineering just to do a straight physics BS....

    ive looked it up, we dont even do a basic 2nd year physics course next year, just all engineering subjects, then we hit the physics again in the third year (its a 5 year degree)....
  9. Nov 15, 2005 #8
    I guess if you like physics enough then go ahead and just do that. You need to do what ever makes you happy. But you also should keep in mind that engineers typically make more money than scientists. To tell you the truth, I would rather go into some type of scientific research field such as high energy condensed matter physics, or some type of chemistry research. But the money thing is deffinetely what made me decide to go with engineering. I just feel as though I will be able to provide for my parents better than I would with a lower paying research type job. And someday when I have a family of my own I will hopefully be able to provide them with the family they will deserve. I am sure a lot of research scientists do make good money, but as far as I know it is much easier to get a better paying job with an engineering degree. So even though I would rather become a scientist than an engineer, I am doing what is making me happy, because having a better chance to make more money to help my family makes me happy.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2005
  10. Nov 15, 2005 #9
    But back to your original question: PHYSICS IS HARD!
    I am doing physics right now (it is 4:15am). I have been doing it since 10:30 pm. I find myself doing this all the time. I have a physics test tommorw too. Man, too much physics. But I really do like it.
    But I spend about 1 hour a night studying calculus, whereas I spend an average of probably 5 hours a night studying physics. It seems like I would be a genius by now. But it just take me that long to get it. I thought I was just slow, but I guess this is pretty common.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2005
  11. Nov 15, 2005 #10


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    I studied engineering (got a masters) and then a PhD in physics. It is definitely challenging, but as somebody else said, you have to go with what makes you enjoy your days.

    I personally found physics easy through college, but that has to do with many things (the material covered on each subject, the teachers, your background, ...). In the end, I think the main component is working hard.
  12. Nov 15, 2005 #11
    What do you do now ahrkron? What I mean is what type of work do you do.
  13. Nov 15, 2005 #12


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    I work at CERN, on ATLAS Higgs physics mainly, and also on detector calibration. As of now, since the ATLAS experiment and the LHC accelerator itself are under construction, most physics studies use simulated collisions and a detailed computer model of the detector. My work basically consists in looking for ways to clean the Higgs signal based on the physics of the processes we'll try to reconstruct.
  14. Nov 15, 2005 #13
    How many people work at CERN? Is the LHC particle accelerator going to replace CERN? Who owns CERN? Does your government pay for it? Sorry about all of the questions, I have never talked to anyone that worked at a particle accelerator. I think particle physics is the coolest branch of physics, and that is definetely the field I would try to go into if I were majoring in physics.
  15. Nov 15, 2005 #14
    I found the answer to one of my questions: Twenty European nations cooperatively fund and administer the organization
    Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

    Could you please answer the other ones I asked though; primarily about how many people work there.
  16. Nov 15, 2005 #15


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    I'm not sure how many people work here... I've heard various numbers, but haven't seen anything official. I'd say ~3 thousand. CERN is the organization that built the LEP accelerator. Currently, CERN is building the LHC ("Large Hadron Collider", the name of the new accelerator machine) in the tunnel that used to host the LEP machine. The LHC accelerator will start operations ~2007. As you said, there are many governments involved.
  17. Nov 15, 2005 #16


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    I find this very interesting because I seem to be opposite of most of you. I find the math harder than the physics. I just seem to grasp the concepts quicker because they deal with real things. Math I have a hard time conceptualizing and really understanding whats going on. I guess its harder for me to do thought experiments in math than physics, because thats how I learn the best. But, just like Bartie my abilities worry me about my career in physics. But, I always just say stick with and eventually I'll get the math.
  18. Nov 15, 2005 #17

    I know you will probably direct me to Zapper Z's "so you want to be a physicist", but after you did your Phd did you simply apply to work there at CERN...where did you do your Phd....

    i guess im asking how you got to be at CERN...
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2005
  19. Nov 16, 2005 #18


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    I applied for postdoc positions to many universities. I did my PhD in a proton-antiproton collider experiment, which is very similar to what LHC will be looking at (proton-proton), so I had a good chance of getting an offer to work on LHC-related physics. I was really elated when I was offered the one I finally took, because it was not only for work on LHC physics, but also I was required to move to CERN (these days, many LHC-related positions require you to stay on campus in a different country and travel often to CERN). I did not have to think much about it :smile:.
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