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Help with learning(Not homework)

  1. Aug 7, 2008 #1
    I'm sorry if this is the wrong place, move it as you see fit.
    Okay, I'm not exactly sure what I'm looking for from you. I'll explain the background. I am currently in sixth form and am taking BTEC applied science(An overview sort of thing). Well, I now wish that I had taken just physics. I was a bit of a slacker leading to, and during, my exams; I didn't want to learn and didn't do very well in maths. I managed to get a C in science without revising however.
    I now WANT to learn and am finding it difficult seeing as physics isn't my chosen subject and I am not taking maths. I suppose I would like somebody to help me organise my learning. So far I have been wandering around aimlessly, looking in to particle physics; it turns out that there is a lot of math in particle physics. So could somebody please tell me what kind of maths I should focus on learning. What these symbols, such as that little triangle etc. I would also like advice on exactly which parts of physics I should have a good grasp on before attempting more complicated theories?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 10, 2008 #2
    I am not sure but I think most of Physics tends to borrow a lot of math. But I could be wrong. Also I hope you don't mean (delta) for the little triangle, as far as I know you should have known what that meant years ago. BTW it means difference of/in.
  4. Aug 10, 2008 #3
    For you right now you should try to take all the math that you can - the math you need for physics builds on the math you learn in secondary school.

    Perhaps you can ask one of your teachers for more advice.

    PS: don't worry that you didn't know what the Δ meant. BioCore doesn't know that it's also the Laplace operator (arrow pointing up) or the gradient operator (arrow pointing down) or baryons with three up and/or down quarks with isospin 3⁄2.
  5. Aug 10, 2008 #4
    I think you have two paths you could take for learning about Physics.

    If your really serious about it, then seeing as it looks like you've just completed your first year of 6th form, why not take Oedipa's advice, and ask a teacher about changing programs of study, dropping your BTEC and taking A levels in Physics and Maths. My college was very reasonable with people who had a change of heart, hopefully yours would be too. It would leave you a year behind, but a small price for doing something you actually enjoy.

    If this is something you'd like to pursue in your own time then good for you, but its a bold move - be sure it doesn't take too much of you energy and drive away from your BTEC - everyone needs a job, and alot of jobs nowadays want qualifications. If you are at GCSE level maths then you have a fairly large amount of work to do before you are comfortable with the maths used in higher level physics. I suggest a good starting place are the Physics and Maths A-level syllabus, all of which you can get on line, this serves as a good but manageable intro. Don't rush it, the foundations are the most important stuff.

    There are also books that aim to explain physics to people with little to no grounding in mathematics. These might keep your interest burning whilst your maths catches up?

    Hope that is of some help...

    Kind Regards

  6. Aug 10, 2008 #5
    Let me just emphasise that there is a LOT of ADVANCED maths in physics. To do basic physics at university level you need familiarity with complex numbers, differential equations, linear algebra, vector calculus and the briefest of introductions to the calculus of variations; as you venture into theoretical physics (particle physics and string theory in particular) group theory, inverse scattering transforms, topology, differential geometry,... all rear their ugly heads. Half of my degree is in maths, and I still won't cover all the maths I'd like to in preparation for a PhD.
    I hate to say it, but what you should do now depends on how serious you are about learning it all. If you think you might want to study it at university, then you will need to take a year to do maths and physics (plus probably one other) A-level (if you're in the UK?). If, on the other hand, you want to study it properly, but don't think that university is for you, then it will be a much cheaper process but a very slow one, and quite probably a more difficult one.
    If that's what you really want to do, however, get yourself a big book with "Calculus" written on the front. If the full mathematical guts of a university textbook seems a bit daunting at first, you could try and ease yourself in with an A-level textbook. The biggest warning I have is that there won't be any physics in it, and it will be difficult to see the point of it all. But when you go pick up a classical mechanics textbook, funny symbols like the integral sign will start to make sense. One place you could try is http://www.phys.uu.nl/~thooft/theorist.html which has links to free lecture notes, starting from really basic maths but going all the way up, as well as a list of what you need to know in a sensible order.
    Finally, if it all gets a bit much (which it does for the best of us sometimes) and you just want to know more about interesting physics, here's some books I'd recommend which are written for an interested person who knows nothing about maths:
    The Fabric of the Cosmos
    QED: the strange theory of light and matter
    Good luck!
  7. Aug 11, 2008 #6
    I am also not studying Physics or Math as a major, :tongue:.
  8. Aug 11, 2008 #7
    Thanks for all the help.
    A-level maths is out of the question. I got a D in my GCSEs, I could always re-take those though. I'm thinking about taking A-level physics along with my BTEC, I don't want that year to be a total waste. I think I can get my current teacher to allow me in.
    As for career choices, I'm not thinking about those. I'm just interested in physics and I know that maths are standing in my way. Looks like I need to go back over GCSE maths and then move to calculus. Thanks for the help.
  9. Aug 14, 2008 #8
    You have to start out with basic alegebra and move up to precalculus. You need to know the geometry of physics and basic alegbra will give you equations and formulas for triangles and circles etc. If you want to choose a high physics class like physics for sci and eng then you have to complete calculus. It is worth it. Math can be fun and a valuable skill. Good luck.
  10. Aug 15, 2008 #9
    I would consider purchasing the actual A-Level course books: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mathematics...=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1218809341&sr=8-1

    pure 1, pure 2, pure 3 at least, and mechanics probably 1-4 min. They are pretty cheap at £10 each, and very accessible. Read through these and do the exercises etc. When you're comfortable, maybe move on to an intro university "maths for physicists" style book like Boas (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mathematica...=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1218809491&sr=1-1). You prob won't understand all of this at that stage, but you could read it parallel to starting studying various areas of physics, maybe a book like Young & Freedman (http://www.amazon.co.uk/University-...=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1218809588&sr=1-1). Young& Freedman is basically a survey of everything you would meet at year 1 (maybe some of year 2) of a UK course.

    This link by Gerard 't Hooft is an excellent guide to what one typically studies to become a (theoretical) physicist: http://www.phys.uu.nl/~thooft/theorist.html and has numerous links to online lecture notes etc.
  11. Aug 22, 2008 #10
    Muppet's book recommendations are spot on. If you read them you will either: (i) become so interested in physics that you just can't think of studying anything else, or (ii) think 'ho hum', this isn't all that. If (ii) then why not become a plumber? You'll make more money than a physicist, and be more certain of finding jobs.

    If (i) find out in detail what you need to do. Then do it.

    If you are on fire about doing physics then aim high. For instance:


    Note, at Cambridge 'physics' comes under 'natural sciences':


    Barney's advice is good, but at a quick glance at these requirements your BTEC might count for one A level, if you do two proper A levels. By "proper" I mean Physics and Mathematics. I had friends who failed GSCE Maths but resat it while doing their A level.

    But read these requirements in detail and write down your own plan of attack.

    One possible plan (but get advice from teachers, barney, muppet, Cambridge...):

    Decide to take Physics and Maths in two years, aiming to get an A in both. Do your BTEC next year, aim to get an A. Do an evening class at the local technical college to resit your GCSE Maths (aim for A) in one year. So, at best, you will be going into the second year of Maths and Physics already having the BTEC A level equivalent at Grade A under your belt, and a top grade in GCSE Maths.

    Remember many students have a gap year between school and Uni. Count your gap year as the year in BTEC limbo where you 'discovered you really wanted to do physics'. Tell the Cambridge interviewer that you didn't take a 'real' gap year because you really wanted to do physics not spend a year swanning around ropey beach resorts (and mean it!)
  12. Aug 22, 2008 #11
    I don't think that Cambridge is perhaps the best place to be applying for someone with WackyRacer's background. The typical Cambridge applicant for the physical sciences strand of Natural Sciences will be predicted As (soon to be A*s) in physics, chemistry, maths and further maths (usually with three maths modules of mechanics under their belt), because they'll need to know all of it to do the interdisciplinary course there. If you really wanted to aim *THAT* high, I'd suggest Oxford rather than Cambridge simply because it woul obviate the need for Chemistry. But there's any number of good universities (read: 24 in the QAA teaching assessment, 5 or 5* RAE scores) where the typical entry requirements are As in physics and maths, and a B in a third A level: Durham, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Warwick, Lancaster to fill up your UCAS form from the top of my head.
    I'm all for aiming high, and please don't think I'm implying that you're not smart enough to go to Cambridge (I've come to be of the opinon that 1) doing some work and even more importantly 2) a willingness to actually think about what you're doing are the real keys to success) but with a D in maths GCSE (as is) you've given yourself an uphill struggle with the admissions process. Admisssions tutors don't know you, and all you can do to endear yourself to them is get some achievements down on paper.
  13. Aug 22, 2008 #12
    I think you have to find some book on the engineering mathematics, and just overview the contents, and then you go back to your particle physics book, whereever there is a problem, then come back to the math textbook. It is more efficient. What's more, Wikipedia is also a good way in the internet.
  14. Aug 26, 2008 #13
    Look at the recommended A levels in the links I provided! Cambridge are not specifically asking for the narrow group you specify. I went to one of those "any number of good universities". It wasn't very good. You might be luckier, but it's far better to try and make your own luck by aiming for the best. If necessary, you can go somewhere else--muppet's 'second best' might then apply. But why not take a crack at the top slot, *if* you are on fire about physics. If not, go to a big city university, the parties are better.

    Why can't he fix his D in maths at GCSE by resitting?
  15. Aug 27, 2008 #14
    You see my point?
  16. Aug 27, 2008 #15


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    Shouldn't need to. A student capable of being accepted into Cambridge (or any other of the top universities) should not get a D in Physics GCSE regardless of whether he revised or not.
  17. Aug 27, 2008 #16
    That's probably even more true of maths (the offending item) than it is in physics.
  18. Aug 27, 2008 #17


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    Ahh.. I must have misread. Well, yes, I would tend to agree. Further, a D at GCSE maths is not conducive to success at A level or degree level physics.

    To the OP, and others reading this, I'm not trying to be arrogant here, but I think it's important to realise what is and what isn't attainable.
  19. Aug 27, 2008 #18
    I would agree with this but for two small things...Wackyracer admitted to being a slacker and not wanting to do well during his GCSE's, yes natural flare takes you a long way at GCSE, however having carried out a placement as a teaching assistant I can assure you familiarity with the material is vital. Personally I think a lot of people forget that people are examined on up to 10 completely different subjects, all with different exam formats and skills within 2 weeks. Flunking GCSE's is easily done, especially by a slacking/disinterested student.

    Second point, I know alot of people, myself included, who are not, never were and never will be the sharpest knife in the block, hard graft is the key to their and my success. Theres nothing wrong for aiming for the very top and settling for the best you can achieve. I think bold moves like this are respected because people can appreciate the extra mile these people have had to go, even if it is their own fault they had too.
  20. Aug 27, 2008 #19
    The thing is that in Cambridge they take "the sharpest knives in the block" and then make them graft.
  21. Aug 27, 2008 #20
    And my point is what is the harm in trying your damnedest to get into get into somewhere like Cambridge, even if all the odds are stacked against you? It can do nothing but aid your applications to other places. I applied to Oxford and got an interview, on the way up there I knew I wasn't the kind of student they were looking for, but I knew no harm could come from trying. I flunked that interview, but ended up in a decent dpt anyway and believe that it helped me - both the interview experience and just having Oxford on my application caught the admissions tutor eye at the dpt I ended up at. I don't see what the problem is with a little audacity. Theres 5 slots on your UCAS application, you might as well use them as your almost guaranteed an offer from at least 1 dpt.
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