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Courses Need help planning math courses for physics major

  1. Sep 7, 2006 #1
    Hello everyone.
    Lately I've been setting out what courses I would should take as a Physics major but I've had a few problems with the math courses in my university (UNLV).

    I read on a different thread that one should take ordinary differential equations before taking calc III (multivariable) but I cannot take dif. eq's until my junior year, currently I'm in my first semester of freshman year taking Trig/Pre-Calc.
    Should I wait a year in order to take differential eq's and then take calc III or is it recommended to just teach myself dif. eq's and then taking the dif. eq's course when I can?

    Also would a physicist need to learn Real Analysis, or just Complex Analysis?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 7, 2006 #2


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    Any physics courses that do something with differential equations, but do not specifically require the diff.eq. course as prerequisite, will (or at least should) be taught with that in mind. That is, they will introduce enough of the concepts of differential equations so that you can deal with the subject matter at hand. Where I teach, we do this in the second-year mechanics course, and in a "math methods" course that most sophomore physics majors take.

    But you really should ask someone in the UNLV physics department about this, because they know UNLV's math and physics offerings, and how they interact with each other, better than most of us out here do.

    I'm curious, when are you taking freshman-level General Physics (or whatever it's called at UNLV)? At most schools, the General Physics sequence that prospective physics majors take, uses calculus, and requires you to take at least the first semester of calculus as a pre-requisite or co-requisite.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2006
  4. Sep 7, 2006 #3
    Thank I'll ask the department when I do an advising session.

    Freshman-level General Physics here only requires Trig/Pre-calc, the next level course which is called "Physics for Scientists and Engineer's I" has the pre-requisite of calculus.
  5. Sep 7, 2006 #4

    Dr Transport

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    The bare minimum courses you should take as an undergrad for a physics degree are the following:

    Calculus (what ever the course sequence is 2 or 3 semesters)
    Ordinary differential equations
    Linear algebra
    1-2 semesters of advanced applied math which would include advanced vector calculus and Fourier series/Partial Differential equations.
    Complex variables

    Now some would disagree with me on this but, I see no need for abstract algebra or groups theory as an undergrad, you'll need the group theory as a grad student. Of the courses listed above, the only one I didn't take as an undergrad was the complex variables. You can get away less if your department teaches a math methods course, mine didn't and we were sent to teh math department for our advanced math coursework.
  6. Sep 7, 2006 #5
    Ah I see, thank you very much.
  7. Sep 7, 2006 #6


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    why don't physics majors have to take statistics? I feel lacking, sometimes.

    I guess here, it gets taught with Thermodynamics (the class is actually called Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics)

    But economy majors make me feel dumb sometimes...
  8. Sep 7, 2006 #7
    uh I just went through the course catalog a second time and noticed they had mathematical physics as well as a course in statistical mechanics, as well as some introductory courses in condensed matter/particle/nuclear physics, guess i should plan to definately take those courses
  9. Sep 7, 2006 #8
    This is similar to my school. However if your are a physics major then what most people refer to as "freshman physics" are the "Physics for Scientists and Engineer's" courses that you talk about. The Trig/Pre-calc physics is geared towards the softer sciences and non science majors.

    I am a junior physics/math major who also started at the pre-calc level. I would advise you to really concentrate on your maths until you have satisified the pre-reqs for the calculus based physics course and start your physics in the calculus based course, instead of taking the pre-calc physics. You really won't gain anything by taking the lower course. All of the formulas that you take on faith in pre-calc physics are derived with calculus in the calc based course. Calculus was invented for physics, for pete's sake! Just fill up your schedule with other degree requirements until you are ready for calc based physics.

    Just thought I would pitch in my two cents since your situation sounded similar to mine.
  10. Sep 7, 2006 #9

    thanks, by next year i should be able to start taking calculus based physics courses, but I have to take the pre-calc based as a pre-req for the calc based courses :/, but i will totally take your advice and take general education courses until I can get into the main Physics required courses

    Although ill be spending about an extra year for a total of 5 to complete my degree because alot of courses are left out...such as Special/General Relativity, the 2nd semester of QM, Mathematical Physics, Statistical Physics, as well as many many math courses that I've read here that I should take such as ODE's, Complex Analysis, Linear Algebra, Dif. Geo. :mad: but I guess it's ok to spend an extra year instead of going to grad school with a weak background in math
  11. Sep 8, 2006 #10


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    Hmmm... I'm looking at their online course descriptions. The course you're taking now looks like this one:

    And the first semester of the other sequence (three semesters in all) is

    plus a separate 1-credit laboratory course each semester. Engineering Physics is the beginning of the physics major requirements. Note that at least according to the web site, General Physics is not a prerequisite for Engineering Physics. I'll be surprised if you can even count the credits in General Physics towards the major. Except perhaps as part of the "Related Courses" which include "10 additional credits of science, mathematics, and engineering courses" beyond the specifically-required courses in math, chemistry, etc.

    If the department told you to take General Physics anyway (presumably to give you something to do in physics while you beef up your math background), then OK, but I'm a bit surprised at this. Here, we tell students who can't start off with our calculus-based physics sequence to start with chemistry, which they're going to have to take anyway at some point since it's required for the major.
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2006
  12. Sep 8, 2006 #11
    The only math courses required for Physics majors at my school are Calc I(Differential calc), CalcII( Integral Calc), Calc III(Multi-variable calc), Differential Equations w/ Linear Algebra, and Mathmatical Physics I and II. However, many students take courses in Partial Differential Equations and Complex Analysis for fun.
  13. Sep 8, 2006 #12

    Dr Transport

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    There is a huge difference between a statistics course and statistical physics. Most statistics courses spend alot of time calculating probabilities, averages, standard deviations etc.....

    Statistical physics deals with calculation of properties of large numbers of particles/energy states etc....

    I have never seen the Fermi-Dirac or Bose-Einstien distributions in a statistics book. Look at Reif's book on Statistical physics and what he covers in a chapter just barely scratches the surface of what you need to know about statistics.

    I have found that a good mathematical statistics course would be help in industry getting our labs on a good solid footing for certification with NIST and other standardization organizations.
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