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Intro Physics Moving beyond formulae

  1. Oct 13, 2015 #1
    I am doing PHYS 172 at Purdue, modern mechanics which begins with algebra and introduces calculus.
    I am having a hard time seeing beyond a page of formulae and understanding physics as fundamental principles. The textbook is "Matter and Interactions" by Chabay and Sherwood, and I am also reading through "Fundamentals of Physics" by Shankar and "The Cartoon Guide to Physics" by Gonick and Huffman.
    Do you have any suggestions on how to think of physics like a physicist, rather than like a student cramming for a test? I can memorize formulas all day, but I would rather understand more of the "how" and "why."
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 13, 2015 #2


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    Do you have a lab course that matches this stuff? Even if you don't have the lab course, does your uni have undergrad labs that you might get permission to go try?

    For example, when I studied collisions, they made us do labs on colliding masses. We had an "air track" thing with very low friction especially at speeds of a few 10's of cm/s. Add a strobe light and a simple camera system, and you can do 1-dimensional collisions.

    For a lot of things in first year physics there are fairly easy to set up labs. I found that actually playing with systems that matched the equations gave me a lot better understanding. Some of the 2nd year and 3rd year labs were especially interesting. We did a version of the measurement of the speed of light using rotating mirrors that was lots of fun.

    If you can't get actual hardware, then you may find some value in simulations. Or possibly from videos of labs. Google for them. Or look around on YouTube. There are a variety of interesting vids on lab tests. Also, Google for the Khan academy. I think they have moved into first year uni physics stuff.

    If you are especially keen at programming, you might try writing a simulation. See if you can write up a sim that will show you what happens for an arbitrary 1-D collision, with arbitrary input velocities and masses for two particles, and arbitrary degree of "elasticity" of the collision, up to the two particles sticking.
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