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Learning theoretical physics on my own

  1. Jul 23, 2010 #1
    Hello, everyone.

    I'm sorry if this is in the wrong place ... anyway ...

    I'm studying to be a biomedical researcher, but I have a great interest in physics and math, and I feel like I can't live without learning these sciences in a more deep way than I would need for my profession. Physics seems to me like the most essencial of the sciences.

    Problem is, I have to survive, and unfortunately, a physics job isn't very financially rewarding in Brazil. The point is, I want to know the stuff.

    I've considered getting a degree in physics after I get my current degree, but this seems too distant from the present.

    My question is, how realistic am I being if I consider learning modern theorethical physics on my own? I have already a good basis in math, but I probably would have to study math before actually getting to physics. The thing is I want to study the real thing, I've read some books on quantum physics and relativity, but they're meant for the layman, they're more of exposing the facts than actually showing you why we know the facts are the facts.

    Hope I made myself clear. Thanks, great forum.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 23, 2010 #2
    If you want to just learn generally about theoretical physics with some of the math behind it, yes it's very realistic that you could learn it on your own. Check out some of the Feynman lectures, they're really informative. But if you want to try to study on your own to understand theoretical physics at the level you would if you got a degree on it, I think it will take a good bit of dedication to the topic. I'm sure it's possible, but will require lots of diligent study.
  4. Jul 23, 2010 #3
    Just go to any college library and go to the physics section. You'll find lots of literature on interesting things like black holes, quantum mechanics, dark matter, string theory, etc. Any library will do actually. If you don't want to dive in deep with actual physics classes, this seems to be the best thing a layperson can get in on.
  5. Jul 24, 2010 #4
    I would say its very possible, but as others have stated it would take an enourmous amount of work. Are you trying to learn just the general basic of math and physics, like say lower divsion calc based physics level and math at the calc/elementary linear algebra/elementary DE's? Or are you trying to learn these subject on the level of a B.S. ?

    You could look up your uni's required classes for the majors; for physics this usually means 2 semesters/2 quarters of CLassical Mechanics, 2 S/Q of E and M, 2 Semesters/3 Quarters of Quantum Mechanics plus electives) and for math its 2 S/Q of Linear Algebra 2 semesters/3 quarters of Abstract Algebra, 2 semesters/3 quarters of Analysis plus electives.

    Get the books for these classes and use those as your "main" texts. You could also supplement your reading by getting books like the Schaum's outlines or the REA's problem solvers. Also Dover books are a goldmine of damn good and cheap books and sometimes the books take an approach to the subject from a different prospective that can really add to your understanding of the subject matter.
  6. Jul 24, 2010 #5
    Here let me give you a list of books that I use in my classes and some that I have as "back ups":

    General Physics for Scientists and Engineers - Mechanics, Waves, Thermo, E & M and Optics:
    (Sears and Zemansky's) University Physics by Young and Freedman, 11E

    Modern Physics - Speacial Relativity and Quantum Physics:
    Modern Physics for Scientist and Engineers by Taylor, Zafiratos, Dubson, 2E

    Mathematical Physics:
    Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences by Boas, 3E

    Upper Division Classical Mechanics:
    Classical Dynamics of Particles and Systems by Marion and Thornton, 5E

    Upper Division Electricity and Magnetism:
    Introduction to Electrodynamics by Griffiths, 3E

    Upper Division Quantum Mechanics:
    Introduction to Quantum Mechanics by Griffiths, 2E

    Calculus by Larson, Hostetler and Edwards 4E (there are newer editions)

    Elementary Linear Algebra:
    Elementary Linear Algebra by Anton, 7E (newer edition available)

    Elementary Differential Equations:
    Introduction to Ordinary Differential Equations by Ross, 4E (newer available)

    Math Proofs:
    The Elements of Advanced Mathematics by Krantz, 2E

    Number Theory:
    A Computational Introduction to Number Theory and Algebra by Shoup, 2E (free download)

    Upper Division Linear Algebra:
    Linear Algebra by Friedberg, Insel and Spence, 4E

    Elementary Analysis: The Theory of Calculus by Ross, 1E

    Abstract Algebra:
    A First Course in Abstract Algebra by Fraleigh, 7E

    This list basically represents the foundation or "core classes" for a major in Math and Physics.

    This next list is just a list of books that I've found to be very good and often very cheap if you put in a little time and effort to find the deals .

    Schaums Outlines - Modern Abstract Algebra
    Schaums Outlines - Group Theory
    Schaums Outlines - Linear Algebra
    Schaums Outlines - Advanced Calculus
    Vector Calculus, Linear Algebra, and Differential Forms: A Unified Approach by Hubbard
    Abstract Algebra by Herstein, 2E
    Linear Algebra Done Right by Axler (get an international edition)
    An Adventurer's Guide to Number Theory by Friedberg
    Ordinary Differential Equations by Tenenbaum and Pollard
    An Introduction to Ordinary Differential Equations by Coddington

    The Feynman Lectures on Physics by Feynman
    The Mathematics of Relativity for the Rest of Us by Jagerman
    Vibrations and Waves by French
    Partial Differential Equations for Scientists and Engineers by Farlow
    Div, Grad, Curl and All That by Schey
    Quantum Mechanics in Simple Matrix Form by Jordan
  7. Jul 24, 2010 #6
    Thank you for your replies.

    I'm aware that it takes time and a lot of effort ... I just wanted to know if you considered it possible to grasp with it without a professor's guidance. The list of books will be very helpful.

    Thanks, again.
  8. Jul 25, 2010 #7
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  9. Jul 26, 2010 #8
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