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How to Begin Learning Physics

  1. Dec 11, 2012 #1

    I'm an 8th grade student with a strong interest in the field of Physics. I was wondering what prerequisites I should have to begin learning Physics, and what I should read/do to dive into a self-taught education in Physics.

    I am currently in the process of reading "A Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawking and watching some of the Feynman Lectures on Physics.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 11, 2012 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    There's a good book called Physics for the IB Diploma by Tsokos which is used in some HS AP courses that is pretty good. That should give a college freshman level of physics understanding.

    For a conceptual book consider Physics for Future Presidents by Richard Mueller, good book for concepts without too much math.

    Pay attention to your math: algebra, geometry (trigonometry), pre-calculus and calculus learn them well enough to help other students and you should be well prepared.

    Learn some java programming. Generally useful for some projects. and/or Matlab (clones available: Freemat, Octave...) used by physicists/engineers to do assignments, simulations and other projects.

    Checkout the Open Source Physics website www.compadre.org for computer simulations.

    and Khan's Academy for videos on Physics and Math topics.
  4. Dec 11, 2012 #3
    8th grade eh? Impressive.

    Have you started calculus? I think the Feynman videos are calculus based physics. I'd look at the stuff on Khan Academy first. He has a bunch of algebra based physics that allows you to do calculations and grasp the concepts.
    I've heard from a lot of people that the MIT stuff on youtube is excellent but I'm sure that's calculus based as well.
  5. Dec 12, 2012 #4
    Why use Java over a language like Perl (which I know)?
  6. Dec 12, 2012 #5
    From what I've watched, the Feynman videos are a lot more conceptual (I may be wrong, I've only seen three).

    As far as Mathematics goes, do you think I need to go in depth on Trig and Calculus? I haven't taken either yet in my regular schooling.
  7. Dec 12, 2012 #6


    Staff: Mentor

    Perl is a good scripting language but Java is everywhere. One example is the Open Source Physics link I mentioned where people are doing simulations of physical systems using Java. There are many more libraries and tools that support Java and many more software engineering related jobs in Java. Java is also a cross platform language. I can write code on Windows that runs on Linux or MacOS without worrying about platform differences for the most part.
  8. Dec 12, 2012 #7
    Yes, unfortunately you do need trig and calculus to do Classical Mechanics. But as I said, Khan Academy has excellent algebra based physics where you can still learn to do calculations. The only thing is that they will be approximations. For an example, to calculate the torque on a see-saw you need to use integrals but you can get a good approximation with algebra.

    If the Feynman videos are conceptual then it's all good.
  9. Dec 12, 2012 #8


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    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    There are lots of different mathematical levels at which you can learn physics. You can do it with calculus or without. You can even do it without algebra.

    Khan academy is very superficial; I wouldn't waste any time on it.

    Programming is totally unnecessary. Do it for its own sake if it interests you.

    A good book that doesn't use a lot of math is Conceptual Physics by Hewitt. Many public libraries have it. It assumes only very basic algebra.

    Here are some free books that you might want to browse through: http://www.theassayer.org/cgi-bin/asbrowsesubject.cgi?class=Q#freeclassQC
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