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Need guidance to learn sciences. Extremely ignorant.

  1. Dec 9, 2013 #1
    Here is a brief description about what I'm looking for.

    I dropped out of highschool 9th grade to be exact. Fast forward I am now at the community college and I start Calculus next semester. I am a math major and I feel confident in Algebra and Trigonometry. I have an easy time learning Mathematics but since i dropped out of Highschool I never took a science course, and I am extremely ignorant. Physics ans Chemistry the little research I have done interest me. I would like to be more knowledgeable about the sciences. If anyone can point me to the direction of either introduction to physics or chemistry books that are rigorous
    yet accessible to someone who never took a science class before. Particular ones that are great for
    self study and to become acquainted with their respected fields.

    I get embarrassed sometimes because I have a good grasp of mathematics but none of sciences. When people talk about physics I am completely lost and ashamed. Please help me.

    Of important mention I enjoy to learn so I naturally study hard.

  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 9, 2013 #2
    Once you've completed a semester of calculus I would recommend Kleppner for classical mechanics and Oxtoby for general chemistry.
  4. Dec 9, 2013 #3


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    At most colleges, there are at least two physics paths: one is for those majoring in physics, chemistry, and engineering. These classes are calculus-based. The other path is for other sciences that require some physics knowledge (biology, e.g.). These classes are algebra-based but cover basically the same material.

    You should consider taking the algebra-based courses, if you're just taking them to become well rounded.

    Some colleges have a third option for liberal arts majors but I bet you would find them too slow.

    Good for you getting back in the game after dropping out of high school - I did it that way, too!
  5. Dec 10, 2013 #4


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    Really? I seriously question this advice.

    Kleppner makes me want to bash my head against the wall in a good way on some of the problems,and I've taken quite a bit of physics now. I certainly wouldn't recommend it to someone who's looking for a soft introduction to physics.
  6. Dec 10, 2013 #5
    Thanks for the advice. Yeah I was looking into taking the classes for the IGETC requirements. I just have a problem with the current educational system. I feel that atleast in America institutions of learning have dumb down their curriculum. I find and learn more from self study. I have to take these classes anyways but I wanted to have a least an idea of the properties and laws governing these fields which would make the course more interesting.

    So anymore book recommendations?
  7. Dec 10, 2013 #6
    That's fair, but he did claim to be good at mathematics and with a firm footing in calculus the text is wonderful. He gives more insightful examples than any text I know.
  8. Dec 10, 2013 #7
    People may disagree with what I have to say, but, at least for chemistry anyway, I don't believe a one 'general text' will be satisfactory, and may even put you off the subject as they can be unbelievably basic. Perhaps look for specific introductory texts.

    Even though I haven't learnt from them, try some of the courses on MIT OpenCourseware. They'll each provide reading lists and even if you don't want to learn them formally, they could be a good guide about what to learn. But I'll reiterate and say that my experience with general texts is that they can be very hit and miss, although maybe you don't want as rigorous as an introduction to something.

    Here's a suggestion: the goal of aiming to get a grasp on physics or chemistry in general is quite broad, so maybe look at some of the topics on the interface? Either that, or in your goals to learn chemistry perhaps first start at physical chemistry, and then see if that interests you and try look at some inorganic or organic chemistry, because if you find physical chemistry dull as a mathematician I personally can't see you finding inorganic or organic chemistry exciting, as the former is very qualitative and the latter is its own type of science, perhaps seeming cryptic on first exposure.

    If that suggestion appeals to you, I'd very much recommend starting with these topics, as they were the first physical topics I had exposure to as a chemist (with an example text in parentheses):
    • Thermodynamics (Atkins' Physical Chemistry)
    • Classical Mechanics (Introduction to Classical Mechanics - David Morin)
    • Electricity and Magnetism (A Student's Guide to Maxwell's Equations - Daniel Fleisch)
  9. Dec 10, 2013 #8


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    K&K is a good book, but one size does not fit all. I think for a gentle introduction to physics, you are best suited with a book like Knight. It has good pedagogy and is a lot more accessible than Kleppner and Kolenkow. I strongly suggest the op avoids K&k until they are more confident. Landau's mechanics is my favourite, but I wouldn't subject a neophyte to it.

    It seems to be trendy to hang around here suggesting everyone starts with Morin or K&K for mechanics and equally challenging introductions to E&M. For many (most?) this is not the case. I have taught intro physics to non physical science majors, engineers, and honors physics majors. People approach these subjects with vastly different backgrounds and expectations. This needs to be accounted for.
  10. Dec 10, 2013 #9
    You need to start with the basics. You can't just jump into a quantum mechanics book while you are learning calculus for the first time. Most colleges will either let you take calculus-based physics either after your Calculus 1 class or at the same time as your calculus 1 class. If you really are good at calculus/math like you said, I'd recommend taking introductory calculus based physics 1 -classical mechanics, alongside your calculus 1 class. Even though they call it "calculus based physics" most of the calculus you will see is just when the teacher is deriving the formulae in class. You will probably only use calculus on 20-30% of your homework problems even in a calculus based physics class.

    edit* focus on physics first. Chemistry is pretty trivial after you have mastered physics.
  11. Dec 10, 2013 #10


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    We have a good selection of books along with discussions about them - you're looking for the "Classical Physics" category:

    https://www.physicsforums.com/forumdisplay.php?f=224 [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  12. Dec 10, 2013 #11


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    Said no one taking OChem. Chemistry won't become trivial just because you've mastered another field. Mastery of even one entire science is an impossibility regardless. ;)
  13. Dec 11, 2013 #12
    I think ochem has a pretty varied reception. I have friends who have said it was simple and others who barely passed. It depends on the person. Anyways I should ave worded that differently, I mean to say that general chemistry is pretty trivial once you have mastered "general" physics or freshman calculus based physics.
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