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Is this a typical physics curriculum?

  1. Feb 20, 2007 #1
    I'm highly considering transferring UC Irvine once I finish my last semester at my community college. I looked at UCI's physics curriculum and I'm a little worried about what I'm seeing

    They have a course called "Computational Methods" that transfers take instead of the "Mathematical Methods for Physical Sciences" course that sophomores take. The Computational Methods uses "Mathematical and numerical analysis using Mathematica and C programming, as applied to problems in physical science" I think the reason transfer take this class is because the upper-div physics classes at UCI use Mathematica alot. Is this the case for other schools as well?

    They have a sequence called "Mathematical Physics" which focuses on "Complex variables; Legendre and Bessel functions; complete sets of orthogonal functions; partial differential equations; integral equations; calculus of variations; coordinate transformations; special functions and series" But the prerequisite to this is a quarter of upper-div Quantum physics, and that requires a quarter of upper-div E&M and classical mechanics. Isn't the mathematical physics class supposed to only have lower-div math and physics as its prerequisites?

    Their website also says that they assign homework problems that use Mathematica. This isn't a problem right?

    Their website is here: http://www.editor.uci.edu/05-06/ps/ps.7.htm#gen99

    The reason why I'm so concerned about this is that I will probably end up transferring to UCI or UCLA. UCI is alot closer to where I live so I can commute there instead of living in the dorm/apartment at UCLA. But UCLA's physics doesn't appear to have these conflicts.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 20, 2007 #2
    Yes I believe a lot of other schools utilize Mathematica. Mathematica is pretty user-friendly and a great tool, so I wouldn't be intimidated by it.

    I graduated from UCI and I remember this class. You don't really need to have taken the prerequisite physics courses to "get" the math, but you'll have a better idea of why the math is useful if you know more about the problems it helps you solve. Basically they're giving you the tools to solve problems you've already seen and may not have known how to solve before.
  4. Feb 20, 2007 #3
    Yes I know that the class that this class provides math tools. But wouldn't this class be more helpful to physics students if you could take it before the upper-div physics classes? A lot of people on PF agree that knowing the math beforehand makes the physics easier.

    By the way, since you went to UCI, how did you do? Are you completing a phD in physics? Did UCI prepare you well? How are the research opportunities there?
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2007
  5. Feb 20, 2007 #4
    I think the basic idea is that they want to give you a "feel" for problems that require a lot of difficult math to solve properly before they make you actually do the math. For instance, intro physics courses teach you what hydrogen electron shells look like, but they don't tell you how to calculate them because doing so requires Laguerre polynomials, which are a little advanced for frosh physics. I think if you taught students the math first, most students would react by thinking "what the hell is this math used for?"

    I took 2 years off to work, and I'm currently applying to PhD programs. I think like most other physics programs, you can't rely too heavily on your professors to teach you things; the learning has to be self-motivated. I had both very good and very bad professors at Irvine.
  6. Feb 20, 2007 #5
    It's also obscenely expensive to licence, so you're lucky your school has it for general student use, and don't even consider being able to use it at home...

    My school apparently don't feel it's i) useful enough as a teaching aid or ii) worth the expense. We tend to use MATLAB, though I'm aware it's a somewhat different application.
  7. Feb 20, 2007 #6
    Erm a student copy of Mathematica is free for 1 year, and $139.99 beyond one year. So yes, you can use it at home just fine... :rolleyes:
  8. Feb 20, 2007 #7
    I have maple on my laptop, simply because we needed it for my calc 3 class, it came with the book, I do not know if it is only a year long license or what not, but I can take it anywhere with me. And my school makes maple and Mathematica available to all its students on almost any campus computer
  9. Feb 20, 2007 #8
    There's a similar course where I did my undergrad. It also had upper division physics prerequisites. I think this may be because it's only intended for physics majors. I couldn't tell you too much; I didn't take it since I majored in math as well, and thus probably wouldn't have learned anything new. But the people I know who took the course showed me their assignments, and someone with a lower division math background should be able to handle it. The only thing is that the problems they give are fairly difficult (but not all that inaccessible). And since difficult but accessible mathematical problems are typical of upper division physics, I'm guessing that this is why it's a prerequisite.

    As for Mathematica, I learned this software in college. It's extremely easy to use, and it is very useful as well.
  10. Feb 21, 2007 #9
    So I guess its typical if this math methods class is taken AFTER some physics courses. I thought it was crucial if I took this class before or at least at the same time as my upper-div physics. Thanks for the advice guys!
  11. Feb 21, 2007 #10
    Proton, come to UCSD, my friend!
  12. Feb 21, 2007 #11
    I would, but I don't like the idea of taking TWO upper-div nonscience/math classes as one of the graduation requirements.
  13. Feb 21, 2007 #12
    For UCSD? Just take some philosophy classes. I am trying to pick up a minor in philosophy if possible, supplementing those classes as much as I can. San Diego is prettttttty chilllllll dood.

    I honestly think it's important for any practicing scientist (or really any person for that matter), to have a solid foundation in philosophy. It illustrates the very uncertainty in both our questions and the answers we provide to our questions.

    Expands one's awareness regarding the uncertainty that exists and deconstructs that concrete barrier most of us are born with. Then again, entheogen's serve a similar purpose, although only for a short duration, but I digress.
  14. Feb 21, 2007 #13
    A warning about UCSD and UCI: Both are socially dead. If you're looking to have an engaging social life, you probably should consider something else. Of course, that's also an upside because there's less things to distract you from your work. :cool:
  15. Feb 21, 2007 #14
    Nah, don't worry about it. You won't need any advanced mathematical methods for classical mechanics, electrodynamics, quantum mechanics, or thermodynamics. Calc 1 and 2, diff eq, and multivariable are pretty much all you need. In the four core upper division classes, you won't need to know about contour integrals, residues, or numerical methods for solving PDEs. Of course, those things are cool in their own right. :rolleyes:

    In general, the prerequisites listed on your school's course catalog are an excellent measure of what you should expect. In fact, I find that they tend to exaggerate the prerequisites somewhat.
  16. Feb 21, 2007 #15
    I live with my girlfriend so there is no need for a social life! Proton and I, are both transferring from CC so by the time we get to UC, we will be in upper-division anyways.

    Did you go to either one, or just have friends there? A lot of people at UCSD blaze, so that's pretty chill.
  17. Feb 21, 2007 #16
    The sad thing is that's pretty much all the social activity that happens at either school: drug abuse. I wanted to have fun, but drugs were/are not my thing.

    Other schools have things to do, places to go. If you want to do anything while at Irvine, you have to drive 50 miles north to LA.
  18. Feb 21, 2007 #17
    I disagree with this statement but I will PM you to avoid derailment.
  19. Feb 21, 2007 #18
    "For UCSD? Just take some philosophy classes"
    Of course philosophy is interesting. But if I want to learn more about it, I would rather learn it on my own free time, not have it conflict with my difficult math/physics classes

    "Nah, don't worry about it. You won't need any advanced mathematical methods for classical mechanics, electrodynamics, quantum mechanics, or thermodynamics. Calc 1 and 2, diff eq, and multivariable are pretty much all you need."
    Thats a relief!

    "A warning about UCSD and UCI: Both are socially dead."
    That's what I want! As little distraction as possible
  20. Feb 21, 2007 #19
    You are a smart dude, philosophy wouldn't interfere, it's intuitive, I think. The only reason I suggest formal education in philosophy is because your lecturer hopefully, has been exposed to multi-cultural perspectives and different styles of thought and logic, so he can usually add some interesting insight. It's also just helpful to have a professional help you grasp everything.

    My lecturer at my community college, did his undergrad studies in afghanistan (where he was from), did his masters in germany, moved here in 1999 and started learning english and can already speak English better than most of the people I meet. It was cool because he would go from darcee to german to english and show me how things can get lost in translation or how concepts transform or the logic gets lost. Granted, he teaches part-time and drives a cab for a living but he was a pretty awesome dude.

    I can read philosophy and write critiques on my own but it's always more detailed, comprehensive and logically sound with the influence of another. Then again, I have only taken two philosophy classes, so my experience is limited.

    Aside from that though, UCSD has a fairly good maths program according to I think Hillman. Although, we read on here that undergrad doesn't really matter, so I guess who knows dude.

    Are you living on campus or whats up?
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2007
  21. Feb 21, 2007 #20
    Well as long as it doesn't involve too much reading or writing I may do fine. I think I have a really poor reading level or a really-short attention span.

    Yeah the math program there interests me. I heard the math department at UCI is weak

    If I go to UCI, I get to commute, which I heavily prefer over living in a dorm or apartment
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