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Courses Is Jackson's Electrodynamics as hard as they say it is?

  1. May 17, 2016 #1
    I got into a top 10 Ph.D program yah I know yay for me and I'll be starting this fall. As I always I'm planning my course work way in advance and figuring out how to tackle it. For my required electrodynamics class they use Jackson. I heard a lot of bad things about that book. When I took upper level electrodynamics using Griffith I found it to be one of the easier classes I took as an undergraduate. I'm incredibly proficient with Mathematica and know how to program in it symbolically and numerically. Because I know Mathematica I hope that it will save me a lot of time doing the mathematically intensive problems in Jackson and make the course significant easier for me. Will being proficient in Mathematica make Jackson a lot easier or are the questions and topics constructed so that their is no way getting out of spending 12 hours on a single problem?
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  3. May 17, 2016 #2


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    Are you going to Mathematica the exams? So your program skills probably won't help any in the context of the course.

    Many Jackson problems border on annoying, but your professor may not even use the text problems since a Google search can find just about any of them already worked in various places online. As much as professors like to assume physics graduate students would all be honorable about such things, some of them are realists.

    Jackson's text isn't the best to learn from, but it's a very thorough reference. I wouldn't worry about such things, there are more important things to concern yourself with that actually matter in the course of your graduate program.
  4. May 17, 2016 #3
    I just finished this semester with first 10 chapters of Jackson in a graduate E & M course. I think Mathematica may cut out maybe 10-15 percent of time for solving problems, but you may end up not using it for most of the problems. In my opinion the problems of Jackson have two layers.

    First one is for teaching/testing the physics explained in those long chapters. For instance if you are given a sphere with certain azimuthally symmetric potential on the surface, and you are required to find the potential at arbitrary point, you will use Legendre polynomials and spherical coordinate chart with appropriate boundary conditions. Here mathematica won't/can't help you. In the second layer, when you have set up the problem, you will need to do math. In this example you will be finding the coefficients of the expansion by using orthonormality and boundary conditions. Here mathematical might help, but I preferred manual calculations because they didn't seem hard (if problem was set up properly) and provided a good mental exercise.

    Although many times understanding those long chapters become irritating, and you might think that you don't need to know TE, TM modes of *EDIT waveguide*, but using mathematica might be the last thing to come across your mind (unless it is a fancy numerical question).
    Last edited: May 17, 2016
  5. May 17, 2016 #4


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    You shouldn't be spending 12 hours on a problem in Jackson. The book isn't as difficult as you've been led to expect it to be.
  6. May 17, 2016 #5
    Yeah, it's really tough, Green's Functions are EXTREMELY necessary for this book, and the book will not go slow on it, it will pretend that you have mastered Green Functions, and another thing that will help it's to know some Complex Calculus, how to do the Residues Theorem, Conformapal Mapping and so on.

    Right now i'm reading Landau Classical Theory of Fields, which i found MUCH(really) better than Griffith in physical insight, Jackson book is really a math methods for physics book, it's only math, unlike Landau, that tries to minimize the use of mathematics in maximum and apply physical understanding of the matter to fast derive some concept, like the way that he derive the Maxwell Equations from the lagangrian,it was beautiful.And the book introduce Special Relativity, Relativistic Mechanics, Relativistic Electrodynamics and General Relativity!, the only contra that i have about this book it's that it don't cover Electrodynamics in Materials, which is covered in another volume of the series, Volume 8: Electrodynamics of Continuous Media, so if you can i recommend Landau, it's compact, beautifully explained and insightful :0
  7. May 21, 2016 #6
    The bad news is I do not think mathematica is likely to help you solve Jackson problems. The good news is I think Jackson problems are overblown. I actually felt the problems I had to do in Quantum Mechanics from Sakurai were harder than the problems I had to do from Jackson. It is interesting that most grad students at my school though EM (Jackson) was harder, but I thought QM (Sakurai) was.

    I do feel when I tackled Jackson, I had a better preparation than a course from Griffith. My undergrad EM professor assigned Panofsky and Phillips. We (the undergrads in the class) actually preferred to read from Jackson, rather than the assigned textbook. I now think P & P is a good textbook but not for undergrads.

    I did not find Jackson problems were so lengthy they needed computer algebra.
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