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How to self-study physics?

  1. Aug 15, 2011 #1

    Few months ago I watched a documentary about string theory and I found it STUNNING so I started to read a little about modern physics. I got myself a textbook called "physics for scientists and engineers" which doesn't require advanced math to go through.The modern physics section in it starts with "Relativity".I don't know how detailed it is but it covers special relativity in about 40 pages explaining the main points needed to understand it like the MM experiment, the two postulates of the theory, time dilation, length contraction, space time graphs ...etc..

    Reading those pages felt really good, I really liked it and after watching many videos on the web and reading lots of stuff here and there, I decided to devote some time every day to read/study physics but I don't want to just watch videos made for ordinary people, I want to take it further, I was good at math in School but I had to give up math and study biology to get into my desired college (I studied Algebra, basics of calculus, trigonometry) I don't think they were so much but at least I won't start from scratch so I'm willing to study more advanced math and I'm sure I'll need to do that.

    I want to go on with stuff like Relativity, Quantum mechanics ,string theory.. Let's say I have the same goal of Einstein's (UNIFICATION) :rolleyes:

    I'm full of curiosity and enthusiasm.I do know that it's not going to be easy but I will try my best.

    What do physics college students study?.. any recommended textbooks?

    Thank you :smile:
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 15, 2011 #2
    Start with studying calculus. You WILL need this a lot!! I can highly recommend the book "practical analysis in one variable" by Estep. This book is suitable for somebody who's never seen calculus before.
    After that, you will need to have a deeper and more rigorous treatment of calculus, and Apostol should be a nice read for that.

    You should also begin reading a calc-based physics book. Take a book called "physics for scientists and engineers" and make sure that it's calc-based. Once you've completed all of this, you will be ready to move on.
  4. Aug 15, 2011 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    Look at some college and university web sites. They should list the courses that a physics student takes (both required and optional courses), and the prerequisites for each course (which tells you the sequence that the courses have to take the courses in). You will often find a syllabus for each course which lists the required or recommended textbooks.
  5. Aug 15, 2011 #4
    This webpage is full of good advice:

    As an aside I read a bit of string theory in graduate school but could never get excited about the subject. To me the most joy I get out of physics is doing a calculation and/or experiment and comparing the number I calculate to what was measured & seeing that it agrees. It still often seems like a miracle when this happens.
  6. Aug 16, 2011 #5
    micromass, jtbell and Sheets

    Thank you for your helpful replies.
  7. Aug 17, 2011 #6
    Well, there are no doubt more and better treatments of the subject, but I would suggest looking into 'Relativity: The Special and the General Theory' by the man himself, Albert Einstein. It was his own attempt to explain his ideas to the lay public*. Although some knowledge of university mathematics is assumed, the material is still largely accessible and provides interesting insight into his mind. Keep in mind, however, that he is a physicist first and a writer second. He's not nearly as hard to read as Kant, but his style still falls short of what you might be accustomed to.

    A great find nonetheless. Originally published in 1916, I found one in great condition at a thrift store.. paid 50 cents, if I remember correctly. 15th edition, featuring a fifth appendix on 'Relativity and the Problem of Space' which he added in 1952... three years before his death. (Not that anyone cares about the details of my copy.)

    *You asked that the books not be aimed at the general public, but nonetheless I thought this might qualify due to its origin, content and the fact that it does not shy away from math.
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