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Not quite sure

  1. Jul 4, 2008 #1
    First post here, huzzah.

    Anyway, I'm kinda new to the whole "enjoying physics" thing. In fact, I'm not all that wonderful at math; but I'd really love to give it a shot at learning physics, especially quantum physics. I've glanced through a few books on both, and I gotta say, it's a little intimidating. I'm about to enroll into a Conceptual Physics course to get some kind of a foothold. It doesn't seem to require a whole slew of math, just a basic understanding of algebra. What kinda of math would I need to study to build up to the quantum stuff? And if it's possible, I'd like to self teach. Maybe save a chunk of cash without having to pay for classes at colleges.

    Could anyone recommend some starting material and math subjects to get me started?

    PS: I apologize if this is in the wrong area. Wasn't exactly sure where to post it
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2008
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  3. Jul 5, 2008 #2


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    I'm not great on quantum physics, but from experiance the maths at the end of it all isn't too bad. Its all just equations, in my opinion the hard bit is working out how the equations were derived which involves lots of calculus etc. How much physics have you done at school etc?
  4. Jul 5, 2008 #3


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    First of all, welcome to PF.

    If you want to learn quantum mechanics, the first thing you will want to have is a good book which you can learn from and which can serve as a reference when you progress further and maybe want to look back. One book I can really recommend is David J. Griffiths' Introduction to Quantum Mechanics. Even now I sometimes get confused by the stuff in dry physics texts like Sakurai, and I look back at Griffiths.

    You can either try to prepare all the math you need, or you can just buy the book and see what you need to learn to understand it. The book I mentioned does contain an appendix on linear algebra, but you still might want to learn about that first as it's an important part of any sort of physics. Also, you need to have your differentiation and integration skills well founded, as you'll need them. I think that these are really the mathematical basics. You may still have a little more trouble than when you go to college, simply because you would already have learned several tricks and have obtained some fluency in the mathematical topics before you turn to the physics then. When self-learning you will have to focus on and learn both at the same time.

    But you can always give it a try, and of course you're very welcome to ask questions here.
  5. Jul 5, 2008 #4
    That's the problem, I'm just now taking my first timid steps into it with this Conceptual Physics class (which only requires, as I said before, a basic understanding of algebra). So I'm trying to get the steps I need to take figured out. Precalc and Calc seem to be the place where I need to start to really get into physics.

    Thank you very much for the advice. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for this book as well as focus on starting the cultivation of this mathematical skills.
  6. Jul 6, 2008 #5
    Stay away from Griffiths if you don't even know precalc. To tackle that, you'd need to know multivariable calculus and linear algebra. A lot of members here like reccommending books way out of people's level. If you are just getting started, you should know that you will need to know some classical mechanics and electromagnetism before you begin with quantum mechanics. Phyiscs by Resnick and Halliday is an ideal book for you, but you will need to learn calculus along side it. I don't know how strong your math is, but I would learn pre-calc and calculus as soon as possible. Don't waste time with "conceptual courses", as they are useless. Either study real physics or don't study it at all.

    For quantum mechanics, you would at the very least require calculus and linear algebra. This is usually studied in first year in college.
  7. Jul 6, 2008 #6


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    I agree that Griffiths at this point is just going to confuse, intimidate, and discourage you. If you want to learn a bit about QM and don't have the math background, maybe try Tipler's 'Modern Physics' book. It contains introductions to special relativity, quantum mechanics, solid state physics, and astrophysics, and I don't recall it being very math-y. Algebra is enough for a lot of it.
  8. Aug 20, 2008 #7
    David J. Griffiths' Introduction to Quantum Mechanics is a text aimed at students who have had at least a year of university physics and its associated mathematics. So you need somewhere easier to start. Start with Feynman's lectures. Lecture 2 volume 1 has an introduction to quantum mechanics, without the maths, and he spirals towards the third volume which is mainly all about QM at around Griffiths level. He develops the maths along the way, including differentiation and integration. He does things "differently" so you might also want to read Griffiths to get the standard picture.
  9. Aug 20, 2008 #8
    Maybe you shouldn't start with a book that teaches physics but maybe a book that is about physics. "About" books generally use little math and just convey basic concepts required to understand the big picture. They are also usually a lot easier to read.
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