Im 34 and want to get into physics please advise.

  • #1
Hi,

Basicaly what the title is. Im 34 years old and due to illness cant go to collage/uni to study. I have attempted distance learning but the pressure of deadlines and exams makes my illness worse.

I beilve myself to be intelligent and want to know if there is a recomended way to teach yourself physics now, or if you "must" do it via an educational institute.

Ive studied up to high school math and physics, but this was some time ago so am happy to start at the very beggining.

I hope you can help me out and provide me with some good sugestions.

Thanks
Brian.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
eri
1,034
20
How you should go about this depends a lot on what you hope to accomplish. Is this just for fun, or do you want to use your knowledge to get a job in the field or publish?
 
  • #3
Personaly my first aim would be to understand the math behind some of the current theorys out there in cosmology, Blackholes being something that has allways interested me. However I would like to take it as far as I can.
 
  • #4
66
0
Maybe cosmology would be better suited as a "final aim" than a first aim, as it builds on ideas from many different areas of physics (general relativity, particle physics, thermodynamics, etc. etc.). Your first aim should probably be to get comfortable with classical physics (mechanics, e&m, thermodynamics) and the necessary math for that (mainly calculus).
 
  • #5
So the first steps would be maths, including a good understanding of Calculus.

Right, time to raid the library.
 
  • #6
Any sugestions of paths to take in maths to learning calculus, assume zero knowledge.
 
  • #7
93
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You will probably be interested in MIT's OpenCourseWare.

They have first year physics and single and multivariate calculus set up complete with video lectures, recitation videos, notes/readings (don't have to buy a text), assignments (with answers), and tests (with answers) so you can go through at your own pace.

Physics I: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/physics/8-01sc-physics-i-classical-mechanics-fall-2010/

Calc I: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/mathematics/18-01sc-single-variable-calculus-fall-2010/


These online classes - especially the lecture videos - really helped me out during first year.
 
  • #8
Ill be looking for something i can do myself from home, so ill give these a look.

thanks for the links
 
  • #9
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Any sugestions of paths to take in maths to learning calculus, assume zero knowledge.

Pay a graduate student to tutor you once a week or so.
 
  • #10
261
1
I would say, try to get back into the swing of things by reading very superficial math/physics books. The "For Dummies"/"Demystified" series of books in general, are not as bad as youd think. They are not textbooks, not meant for you to learn the math on a real deep level, but rather show how to handle the calculations and such.

Once you get comfortable with the idea of doing math like trig, calc, etc, you should be able to jump right into a standard textbook.

I would do this:

Brush up on your ability to do calculations, at a superficial level. Try a For Dummies book from what ever level you are at now (basic algebra? trig? pre-calc, calc?) all the way to Calc. At the same time, start getting a feel for what physics is what its about. Again, no need to go too deep, you just want a superficial understanding and the ability to do very basic problems. I suggest a book like Hewitt's Conceptual Physics. Once you are fairly comfortable with your trig and are beginning to superficially study Calc, move on to Serway's College Physics.

From here you will probably be ready to undertake self-study of regular science/engineering major level Calc and Physics texts. I like Serway's Physics for Sci's and Eng's and Larson's Calc. Once you get some of the serious calc out of the way, you can try Anton's Elementary Linear Algebra as a fist taste of LA, and Coddingtons Intro to ODEs.

This will pretty much equal what a physics major would do thier first 1.5-2 years of a major. If the version of Serway has a Modern Physics section, then you are fine with that, if not Taylor's Modern Physics treats Quantum Physics at a sophomore level.

An interesting text that I have come across and am currently reading is Bressoud's Second Year Calculus. Now I love Larson, because I think his text makes formal calculus as simple as possible. But this book teaches you multivariate calculus through the framework of physics. So you learn Multivariable Calculus and you learn how to solve physics problems on a level higher than Seway, and probably at a level just below Taylor/Thorton. Div Grad Curl does a similar thing, but through the framework of basic electrostatics.

In addition to a standard text on Physics, you may want to check out the 3 volumes of The Feynman Lectures on Physics. Since you will be working without an instructor, these books really help you develop you physical intuition and the experience should be very helpful to studying deeper texts. Morrisons "Understanding Quantum Physics: A User's Manual" can also be a nice supplemental text. For Special/General Relativity, Jaggerman's THe Mathematics of Relativity for the Rest of Us can give you a really nice base to work off of, if you decide to study Relativity more deeply.

From there, Id grab a copy of Boas' Mathematical Methods for the Physical Sciences. You don't need to formally study the text. Alot of it will be a quick and dirty referance on stuff you should have learned in Larson/Anton/Coddington, but the book also covers some more advanced topics that you could come across when doing junior/senior level work. In any case, the book is more of a reference than a 'learning it for the first time', which is a good thing because it has almost everything you will ever need and not much mathematical rigor (not that rigor is bad, and if you are interested in that sort of thing, I got more suggestions).

At this point you are ready to tackle the standard texts of a physics major:
Taylor's Classical Mechanics or Thorton and Marion's CLassical Dynamics
Griffith's Introduction to Electrodynamics
Griffith's Introduction to Quantum Mechanics
Hartle's Gravity

Of course there are many more areas of physics you can look at like Thermo/Statistical, etc. But this is the basic core stuff you need to know to really say you studied physics at the B.S. level.

If you are at all interested in rigorous math books and a sequence in which you can tackle them, let me know. I got all kinds of suggestions for that.
 
  • #12
Thats great thanks for the help. Ill let you know how I get on, or any problems I bump into.

Man those books aint cheap, im sure the library will have things in. Ill get started on the basics first, ill grab some GCSE (thats UK highschool level) text books from the lib and read through those as well just to relight the fires as it were.

Take care.
 
  • #13
261
1
Oh by the way, you DO NOT have to get the latest editions of most of the textbooks. Books like larson, serway and anton can be bought an edition or two old. They shouldnt run you much money at all (check half.com) A couple of the books I mentioned are Dover books, and they are usually cheap. Feynman's lectures on physics can also be found very cheaply if bought used. Some of the junior/senior level books can be bought as paperback "international editions" which are exactly the same as the standard ones.

But yeah, a couple of the books I mentioned are kinda hard to find for super cheap, but most should be easy to find for insanely low prices! Happy hunting.
 
  • #14
Hi again, if you could give me the full titles id be grateful.

There seems to be various book with similar titles surprisingly.
 
  • #15
261
1
Ok lets go from the bottom up, I will list what I have in my library, that I also think will guide you very nicely:

Any decent Pre-Calc book should review all of t basic high school math (algebra, geometry, trig) plus some sort of introduction to limits. With that in mind, here are preliminary books:

"Precalculus: Functions and Graphs" by Swokowski and Cole 9th Ed can serve that purpose, through in all honesty I've never used my book all that much.

"Conceptual Physics" by Hewitt 8th Edition - Very easy to read text on physics, that really doesn't require much math at all, but never the less treats the subject in more depth than "popular science" books. 8th Edition should be VERY VERY VERY cheap by now.

Beginning Books:
"Calculus For Dummies" and "Calculus Workbook for Dummies" by Ryan will offer you a very informal intro to Calc, and get you into the groove of how to DO calc problems.

"College Physics" by Serway. 7th Edition. Algebra/Trig based physics text that is very clear, yet has nice challenging problems that are sometimes at the level of a Calc based physics text. Again, 7th edition should be available for dirt cheap.

First Year Science/Math/Engineering Major level texts:
"Calculus" by Larson, 4th Edition. My favorite calc text. Ive had the 4th Edition since 1995, and to this day I still find myself cracking it open for clarification on some topics. Again, any edition that is not the absolute latest will be found for next to nothing!

"Physics for Scientists and Engineers, with Modern Physics" by Serway, 6th Edition. Like my Calc book, this book is very clear and I often find myself referring to it again and again! And again, 6th Edition can be found for cheap.

At this point, you may want to being to supplement your reading with less 'traditional' texts that still treat the subject somewhat seriously. You might want to begin reading The Feynman Lectures on Physics at this point. Start at Volume I and go from there

Second Year Texts:
The Larson Calc book should suffice for Calc III type of stuff. As an alternative, you can try:
"Second Year Calculus: From Celestial Mechanics to Special Relativity" by Bressoud. The plus is that you get Calc III from the point of view of physics, essential Calc III taught for the sake of preparing you for Physics specifically. The minus is that it might not be the easiest intro to Calc III. Also, don't really think this can be found very cheaply.

"Elementary Linear Algebra" by Anton, 7th Edition. Some people don't like Anton because its "too easy." But I don't see the problem with this. At this point, you need a working knowledge of L.A., you don't need a rigorous one (yet). Since you are self-studying, you will do better with getting your feet wet on a "simpler" text like this. Again, 7th Edition should cost nothing

"Introduction to Ordinary Differential Equations" by Ross 4th Edition
"An Introduction to Ordinary Differential Equations" by Coddington
"Ordinary Differential Equations" by Tenenbaum
Are all great. You don't need three of them, just one will suffice. The last two are Dover books, so they are cheap. "An Intro" is more basic, quick and dirty than "Ordinary" but "Ordinary" contains much much more material.

If you've bought a version of Serway's "Physics" text that includes Modern Physics, then you are fine there. If you don't have a version of Physics that has a Modern Physics section, or you want a more in depth intro, try:

"Modern Physics for Scientists and Engineers" by Taylor 2nd Edition. Not sure if you can find this edition for cheap, but "International" versions should be found for "OK" money.

Now, supplemental texts to the above can include:
"Understanding Quantum Physics: A User's Manual" by Morrison. Not cheap, but very well worth the money
"The Mathematics of Relativity for the Rest of Us" by Jaggerman. Not expensive, but not cheap either, again, very much worth the money.
"Div, Grad, Curl and all that" by Schey. Very clear, concise intro to vector calc (a topic of Calc III), with the goal of solving basic Electrostatics problems. 2nd Edition can be found for cheap.
"Quantum Mechanics in Simple Matrix Form" by Jordan. Very easy to read book, gives you a slightly different way of looking at QM (through matrices). Its a Dover book, so its very cheap.

Must Have References for higher level physics:
"Mathematical Methods for the Physical Sciences" by Boas. Essentially contains all the math above (and much more), but in a reference type of style (not suitable for learning the material for the first time, but very helpful if you've already seen some of the material). Usually not cheap.

Now you can look at some junior/senior level physics texts:
"Classical Mechanics" - Taylor. Probably cant be found cheaply, but also the most "wordy" and probably the easiest to understand of the standard Theoretical Mechanics books.

"Introduction to Electrodynamics" - by Griffiths. Not cheap if not an "International Edition". Also not an easy book, problems can be really difficult, but I am not really aware of an alternative. The book is well written to be sure, and its interesting to read, but at this point, things begin to get thick real fast.

"Introduction to Quantum Mechanics" - by Griffiths. I tend to feel that E&M is much harder than QM at this level. But this book is written in much the same style as his E&M book, so you will come across some very difficult problems. Still, a very well written book, and for the level it is written at, its hard to think of an alternative (usually alternatives are grad level books).

"Gravity: An Introduction to Einstein's Relativity" by Hartle. The natural next step from the Jaggerman text. Can be difficult, but again for an undergrad level course, its hard to come up with an alternative that treats the subject at this level.

That covers the core of nice library of books for the self learner (and a uni student as well). If you are also interested in math at the level a Math major would tackle, let me know.
 
  • #16
thats cracking, i think it will be a week before i can get out, but ive those links to look at first.

Ill let you know how i go :)

Maybe some time before i repost :)

Can maths issues be posted on this forum if there physics related or are the all tied in together?

Cheers take care.
 
  • #17
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thats cracking, i think it will be a week before i can get out, but ive those links to look at first.

Ill let you know how i go :)

Maybe some time before i repost :)

Can maths issues be posted on this forum if there physics related or are the all tied in together?

Cheers take care.

Sure...if its math problems with a physics text, post it in the Physics section of homework questions. If its a math problem, that has some physics in it, but is from a math book, post it in the Calc and Beyond section.
 
  • #18
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If its a math problem, that has some physics in it, but is from a math book, post it in the Calc and Beyond section.
It doesn't even need to have physics in it, as long as it's maths, he's good to go :wink:
 
Last edited:
  • #19
WannabeNewton
Science Advisor
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I would say go with First Course in General Relativity - Schutz over Hartle because it has a much better treatment of Gravitational Waves and its treatment of manifolds and bases will make the eventual transition to Sean Carroll's book "Spacetime and Geometry" (or Wald if you are more daring) that much easier. Also, Principles of QM - Shankar is better IMO than Griffiths because it goes much deeper into the Hilbert Space formalism, dirac notation, and also treats path integrals as well as the dirac equation and is just as easy to read as Griffiths.
 
  • #20
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
27,568
11,765
I would say go with First Course in General Relativity - Schutz over Hartle

It might be best to reread the first post.

Ive studied up to high school math and physics, but this was some time ago so am happy to start at the very beggining.

We can suggest the books he will need years down the road, but it probably isn't all that helpful.
 

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