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Math In physics

  1. Mar 28, 2012 #1
    Hello I had a couple set backs in high school none the less. Im a freshman in college now and taking college algebra, and I hate using the quadratic formula to figure things out. I know physics has a lot of trigonometry and calculus. How much algebra should I be expecting in my travel to physics 234 and what not?
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  3. Mar 28, 2012 #2


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    None of us have any idea what university you attend, thus none of us have any idea what physics 234 is. I suspect it's the introductory algebra based physics courses, though. If you can't (or is it that you just dislike it) use the quadratic formula, you are going to have problems. Physics requires a solid foundation in algebra.
  4. Mar 28, 2012 #3

    Stephen Tashi

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    There's a section of the forum for the topic of academic guidance. You might get better advice if you have your post moved there. And do you expect people to know what course physics 234 is? Course numberings aren't standardized from college to college - at least in the USA. Doesn't your college publish the prerequisites for the courses?
  5. Mar 28, 2012 #4
    I guess my question really is, how much math is involved in AstroPhysics and how much solar systems, formation of the moon etc.. I decided to major in AstroPhysics because I watch all of the "how the universe works" and I want to learn about how the galaxies were formed, where particles came from. I didn't know that you need to be a mathematician to understand all of this.
  6. Mar 28, 2012 #5


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    Well so tough luck
    You scare algebra?!So don't even look at physics.
    Because I can give you a list with 3 pages that says what mathematics do you need for physics.
    And YES!You should be a mathematician to understand physics,sometimes even more!
  7. Mar 29, 2012 #6
    Don't be scared of maths - the main reasons people dislike it, in my opinion, is that it is

    A) Teached badly in schools and
    B) The maths they teach you in schools, in general, is extremely boring, making it harder to study.

    If you are serious about doing physics, you should be serious about getting good at maths. And don't worry, even if you don't think you enjoy maths (or are good at it), you will start to enjoy it (and get better at it) after you've got past the tedious details which get you started and can begin seeing the beauty of maths.
  8. Mar 29, 2012 #7
    I like math I think math is easy, the hard part is just remember the formulas to solve a problem.
  9. Mar 29, 2012 #8
    I'm not an astrophysicist, but you can get by with different levels of math, depending on what kind of astrophysicist you want to be. I have heard about applications of PhD level math to astrophysics, but that isn't necessary. However, the minimum math level would be very high, by your standards. Calculus (including vector calculus), linear algebra, ordinary differential equations, differential geometry, partial differential equations, calculus of variations.

    Math isn't really about using formulas to solve a problem. Formulas, when they come up, often have a physical or geometric meaning and that's how to remember a lot of them. Or you remember how to derive the formula.

    I think you need to read Lockheart's lament to see what you've been missing:

    http://www.maa.org/devlin/devlin_03_08.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  10. Mar 29, 2012 #9
    If you want to do physics, then your algebra will have to be excellent. You'll have to be able to solve quadratic formula's with ease. If you find algebra hard, then you need to practice even more before starting physics.
  11. Mar 29, 2012 #10
    Im just having a hard time seeing where the quadratic formula is going to come in hand, when i'm studying how planets move or expansion of space. (examples)
  12. Mar 29, 2012 #11


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    You want examples of problems in rigid body motion that use algebra? In relativity? Quantum mechanics? You can take it from the physicists here that you need to master algebra (and an awful lot more) to do well in physics. Study hard, ask questions, and practice. The math and physics you use will get more challenging and much more interesting as you move through the physics curriculum.
  13. Mar 29, 2012 #12
    Quadratic equations come up frequently in classical mechanics, which includes how planets move. One example would be a solution to a differential equation based on F=ma, which is really just F=m*d^2r/dr^2 - a second-order differential equation.

    Maybe you're wanting to analyze planetary accretion in a newly formed gaseous nebula. You might be interested in how a large body would travel in such a medium. You might formulate a second-order differential equation that assumes a central force (a central star, for instance), a 'drag' force proportional to the velocity of the planet and tangent to the elliptical orbit, and a non-uniform gas medium. Thus, your differential equation would be dependent on the second derivative of your position (acceleration), the first derivative of your position (velocity), and your position itself. The resulting differential equation can be solved using a quadratic equation and a couple assumptions that turn out to be true.

    And that's just something I can think of off the top of my head.
  14. Mar 29, 2012 #13


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    I strongly suggest you look up texts such as Mary Boas's "Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences". That should give you a very good idea on the type and level of mathematics you will need.

  15. Mar 29, 2012 #14
    I use the quadratic formula all the time from pure math classes such as deriving an expression for inverse sine or to physical chemistry for finding the amount of gas in a container at equilibrium to physics!

    Truth is, despite if you can see it or not at this point, ALL the math you learn until you are done with lower division math completely is useful.

    Partial fractions, all your factoring techniques, all of it.
  16. Mar 29, 2012 #15
    Wow, incredible read. That makes me want to get into teaching to try to save some tortured souls.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  17. Mar 29, 2012 #16
    Thanks for all the replies.
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