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Math Math skills required to be a career physicist?

  1. Feb 8, 2005 #1
    I have aspirations of becoming a physicist. I absolutely love physics and pure mathematics; I am fascinated by both fields. I am only concerned with the required mathematical abilities to be able to become a competent physicist. I am not amazingly good at math, I would put myself in the lower 4th quartile to upper 3rd of my IB math class in terms of ability. Must one be an individual with natural and rare talents in mathematics to be successful? Will my lack of profound genius in mathematics stop me from suceeding in becoming physicst, perhaps even one with a PhD.?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 8, 2005 #2
    lol, hey ! we happen to be in the same boat too. My math is not terribly good, and I intend to do theoretical physics. I think that if you are intending to do theoretical physics, learning as much math as possible would be to your advantage. If you're into experimental physics though, then the mathematical strain won't be that great. But people such as Einstein, thought in terms of pictures, and that's a viable alternative too, only if you have the physical acumen. But of course, it would be a stretch to say that Einstein did not depended on math at all.

    But imo, i think that a great physicist is not one who can do calc problems real fast, or has exceptional problem solving skills (even though that's important) but rather one who is able to see the physical meaning behind each equation.
  4. Feb 8, 2005 #3

    Dr Transport

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    To be a competant theoretical physicist, you'll need to know a great deal of math. Let me provide a ist of topics you'll need to have a working knowledge of.

    Differential and Integral Multivariate Calculus, Ordinary and Partial Differential Equations, Complex Variables, Special Funtions, Group Theory (point and continuous), Linear Algebra, Operator Calculus, Operational Mathematics (Fourier Transforms, Laplace transforms etc), Tensor Analysis.

    Depending on your specialty, you'll need to learn Differential Manifolds and Exterior calculus.

    I am a semiconductor theorist, I have a working nowledge of the first paragraph and not too much knowledge of the second. Since I spend much of my time programming, I know Fortran 77 and 90 along with some C and C++, Linux, Unix and Windows along with the standard office suites. This is a minimum you should know to be a theorist.
  5. Feb 8, 2005 #4
    Is programming a must for theoretical physicists?? :confused:
  6. Feb 8, 2005 #5
    Hey doc,

    I was just wondering, in your field which computer program do you use/come-accross the most?

    Thanks :smile:
  7. Feb 8, 2005 #6


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    You make your own program if you want the best. You must learn how to program because it is so important and efficient. If you have a thought about something on whether or not it is true, you can create a program to test it a million different ways. This is good because it saves you time if it fails. My prof says that he comes up with things all the time, but seem to fail when tested. He admits to saving hours and days and weeks and months of time doing something that eventually fails.

    At the very least, learn how to use Visual Basics to an advance level.

    Other things you will use a lot are things like Mathematica and Maple.
  8. Feb 8, 2005 #7
    yes, but back to my original question....
  9. Feb 8, 2005 #8


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    You need to know math period.
  10. Feb 9, 2005 #9
    Mathematics is a skill that can be honed and needs constant revision, very much like playing any musical instrument or computer programming. Without practice, it is almost impossible to attain a high level of proficiency in the necessary mathematical techniques needed in physics. If you are weak in mathematics, you can go through a textbook slowly at your own pace. Mastery requires thoroughness.

    For example, my command of C and Java has gone to pieces; I have largely forgotten most of the numerical methods that I studied in school; I can't remember most of the intricate proofs in basic analysis or how to derive the Schwarzshild equation in GR - all simply because I do not use them in my daily work.
  11. Feb 9, 2005 #10


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  12. Feb 9, 2005 #11


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    It's a good start, if you're a graduate!!!! :eek: Not though if you're struggling with IB maths :tongue2: . I'd recomend an undergraduate mathematics for science and engineering text like Mathematical Techniques by Jordan and Smith, in order to get a flavour of the kind of maths that is done at undersgraduate level (it should also be understandle to an IB student as the first chapters are essentially a review of the maths done at IB level).
  13. Feb 9, 2005 #12


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    Or the Mary Boas's text that I've recommended a gazillion times elsewhere.

  14. Feb 9, 2005 #13
  15. Feb 9, 2005 #14

    Dr Transport

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    I work in industry, almost all of my time is either looking at data or modeling the data. I program all the time, either in C/C++ or Fortran. Even most of the academic theorists I know spend a bunch of time on a computer programming. most problems today cannot be solved analytically and have to be solved numerically.
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