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How important is Jackson?

  1. Mar 1, 2006 #1
    I'm a student in a master's program, and of course I am working through the obligatory Jackson textbook.

    I can't help but wonder how useful this is going to be, how applicable. Let's face it, the book does little to further my insight into the actual physics. It's more of a treatise on mathematical methods.

    Should I be concerned that my knowledge of physics isn't furthered by this text? if I go on to a ph.d program then I'm certain I'll be seeing this book again, perhaps a second go around would help cement the material?

    Has anyone gained a deeper appreciation for the book after actually taking the course?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 2, 2006 #2
    Classical electrodynamics is a very important part of physics. Do not neglect it. It comes up every now and then regardless of what field in physics you want to pursue. And if you can't find physics in Jackson you're not reading it right.
  4. Mar 2, 2006 #3
    It probably depends what chapters did he read. The book is huge. Some of the chapters are basically exploration of Maxwell equations with some advanced math, special relativity (again with advanced math concepts) and some relativistic effects. I used Jackson along with Griffiths book in my undergraduate course in classical electrodynamics and Jackson worked ok as a supplement. We didn't cover ALL chapters ofcouse, I think it was something like a little more than half.
  5. Mar 3, 2006 #4

    Tom Mattson

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    How applicable to what, exactly?

    I took this course, then proceeded to a research group in theoretical subatomic physics, and never saw anything from Jackson again. Other people in my class joined a research group in applied physics and did research on radar physics for the US Army. The stuff they did made Jackson look like Tinkertoys.

    You have to remember that as a grad student you are not just being prepared for a specific research field. Your degree is going to say "Physics", not "Experimental Solid State Physics" (or whatever). And because it is an advanced degree you will be expected to not just know physics, but also to be a Master or Doctor of the subject, depending on how far you go. An advanced grounding in classical EM theory is therefore necessary.

    Also the more you learn the more doors you will have open to you. Things didn't work out for me with particle physics (my advisor died, and I left my PhD program). Right now I am teaching mathematics and engineering at a small college, and I am a candidate for a position in optical engineering at an R&D firm (really hope I get it). Neither of those jobs is related to particle physics, and I have Jackson's course to thank in part for both of those opportunities being open to me.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2006
  6. Mar 3, 2006 #5

    Dr Transport

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    As my old E&M Professor used to say to me, "if you can master Jackson, you can learn anything Physics throws at you".

    After completing a PhD in Theoretical Solid State Physics, and going into industry, I found that I refer to Jackson more and more especially since I use it in conjunction with Born and Wolf. As Tom said, the reseach on radar systems and other DOD projects makes Jackson look like an undergraduate kids course. I have told young engineers that they need a working knowledge of the material in Jackson before I let them go off on their own and work for me without my constant badgering and quizing.

    I thought I knew something after suffering thru Jackson twice until I got into industry, I was wrong. Even worse is Stratton's book on E&M, it'll make your head spin.
  7. Mar 3, 2006 #6


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    Here's an Jackson anecdote that I heard nth-hand concerning a former professor.

    A student had Jackson's text in his hand. This professor asked to take a look at this big book. While flipping through it, he looked rather puzzled. The professor handed the book back to the student. (Probably paraphrasing...) "What's the big deal? These are all trivial. All of these equations are linear!" [The prof was a mathematical physicist working on systems of nonlinear PDEs.]
  8. Mar 4, 2006 #7


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    Just to add another "application" of stuff from Jackson, if you work in accelerator physics, knoweldge of stuff in Jackson is a MUST. Designing accelerating structure in a linac, figuring out the field profile in a cavity, beam physics, etc... are all E&M. If you don't know stuff in Jackson, there's no hope in hell that you'd be able to know even more complicated stuff in this field.

    I know of many electrical engineering graduate students that take this class from the physics dept.

  9. Mar 4, 2006 #8


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    However, for a better account on classical field theory (that is electrodynamics of particles and em fields in interaction treated at a more abstract level) i'd advise to read A.O. Barut's book on "Electrodynamics and Classical Theory of Fields and Particles" (i know the title is a bit different, but you'll still be able to identify the book).


    P.S. Actually A.O.Barut's other famous book on group theory representations is highly reccomended as well...
  10. Mar 4, 2006 #9

    Doc Al

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    I disliked Jackson for that exact reason; it seemed more of a math methods book, than a physics book. But, in retrospect, I can appreciate the fact that these math methods are essential if you ever want to actually do anything with E&M.

    For "understanding" E&M, I consulted many other books. One that I used as an undergrad and liked was "Principles of Electrodynamics" by Schwartz. Never limit yourself to just one book--especially the course textbook!
  11. Mar 4, 2006 #10
    I loved Jackson learned a lot from it. Only got a B in the course but I still always did well on the homeworks.
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