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Just started my fresh year, and taking calc based physics IMPORTANT QUESTION!

  1. Aug 26, 2010 #1
    hi, i just started freshman year, and i am taking the standard intro physics class for physics majors', but i am only in calculus 1, and in the first day today, our prof already started with some basic kinematic questions that involved derivatives. (also second derivatives)

    I taught myself derivatives over the summer using spivak's calculus 3rd edition, but i was wondering what math am i going to need to know besides derivatives? So that i may get a head start learning it. So far i know all the rules for derivatives (finding the derivative of a polynomial, chain rule, addition rule, constant rule, etc.) what else do i need to know besides that?

    I haven't learned how to integrate yet, should i start? I love math, i was in honors algebra-honors precalc, but i was one of those kids that opted to take ap stats senior year. (senioritis)

    fyi: our school generally requires calc 1 as a pre-rec not a co-rec, but i had a perfect score on my math placement test so, after some pleading with my advisor, he let me take it.

    (i posted this on the math forum also, sorry i didn't see this section first.)
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 26, 2010 #2


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    I'm a bit hesitant to answer because it's typical that calc 1 is a co-rec, not a pre-rec, for physics 1. This leads me to believe your school has a program that's a bit different from the traditional sequence.

    The best thing you could do is ask the professor.

    The next best thing would be to post a brief summary of the course you're taking (for example from the class syllabus) so we can give some guidance.
  4. Aug 26, 2010 #3
    well: we have a really concise syllabus,

    the only thing the syllabus says, in regards to what we will be learning is : covering in depth kinematics, mechanics, statics, rotation, fluids and waves.
    that's it.

    As i said before Calculus is a pre-requisite not a co-requisite. Maybe that's due to the class starting right off the bat with calculus concepts and applications to physics.

    if it helps we are using this text book: Physics for Scientists and Engineers with Modern Physics, 4e by Giancoli

    and if it also helps here is a description of the class that is next in sequence (second semester of physics): demonstrate an understanding of optics, electricity and magnetic fields, and circuits.

    i would ask the professor, but he has a very thick Chinese accent and he is inaudible to me and most of the class, our tAs are also more proficient in speaking languages other than english. In your best opinion what math concepts should i learn to be 100% sure i have everything covered to focus on the physics rather than the math.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2010
  5. Aug 26, 2010 #4


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    Different schools teach their intro physics courses differently. Even if they use the same textbook, they may have different expectations from their students as far as math background etc. is concerned. Who do you think is more likely to know what your course is like, someone in your physics department or some random people on the Internet who don't even know what school you're at? :smile:

    Talk to your professor, or if you're not comfortable doing that, find someone in the department who is familiar with the intro courses, and find out how much calculus you're really going to use.

    As lisab said, at most schools, calculus is a co-requisite for intro physics, not a pre-requisite. In the first semester, calculus is generally used mainly to simplify derivations, notation and concepts, and you're not expected to grind out complicated derivatives or intergrals like you would in a math class or an upper-level physics class. The profs know you're taking calculus concurrently, so they go easy on you. In the second semester (electricity and magnetism), the calculus gets "deeper" as you develop Maxwell's Equations, but it doesn't usually get "technically" complicated.

    It may be that at your school it's basically the same way, but they have calculus as a pre-requisite simply to discourage students who really aren't prepared for intro physics yet, to get them to slow down a bit and get some more math under their belt first. Or it may be that they really do more with calculus than most schools do in their intro courses. Only someone who is there can tell you what the deal is. Or if you tell us where you are, maybe you'll get lucky and someone reading this thread will actually have been there!
  6. Aug 26, 2010 #5
    the school is georgia tech. Might be the only school that requires a calc class before the first intro physics class. It is strange because most students' have had previous exposure to calc before. What the heck is the reason for calc to be a pre-rec for an intro class in physics. I think we have a pretty standard intro physics class covering mechanics and etc. Do they normally start using calculus the first day of class, like they did today.

    And what can you recommend if you cannot understand the professor or the TAs? that is basically the majority of our physics department/ math department/ every other department outside of management and liberal arts
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2010
  7. Aug 27, 2010 #6
    A lot of the schools that teach calculus in a 3 semester sequence will have calc I as a prerequisite for physics 1 (mechanics) and calc II as a prerequisite for physics 2 (E&M). After checking the GT website I see that they do teach calc in 3 semesters. Not that this is pertinent now, but you might have to cover some Calc II topics over winter break to prepare for E&M.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2010
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