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Order in which to learn physics concepts?

  1. Mar 1, 2013 #1
    Hello. As I've said a few times before on this forum, I'm 16 years old and I'm teaching myself physics because in my school everything is taught too slowly for my taste. I have a pretty decent grasp of differential and integral calculus of one variable and I have a solid understanding of classical mechanics (calculus-based, of course). What order should I learn other branches of physics in? I already got a pretty decent introduction to special relativity (from the same book I used to teach myself classical mechanics- An Introduction to Mechanics by Kleppner and Kolenkow). So in what order should I learn more advanced branches? I probably want to learn about electrodynamics, optics, fluid mechanics, and thermodynamics in the next year (or two, depending on how much work I put in). Also, if you could recommend textbooks (with similar difficulty and depth to Kleppner and Kolenkow, which I thought was perfect for me), that would be really appreciated. I know that I'll probably get either Purcell or Griffiths to learn electrodynamics (or maybe both), but I'm not sure for the other subjects.
    Thank you
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 2, 2013 #2
    Any thoughts? Anybody?
  4. Mar 2, 2013 #3
    After Newtonian mechanics, I don't think there's any preferential order to learning the rest of the subjects at the intro level. Perhaps go for some Newtonian gravitation and orbits if you haven't already, vibrations and waves, thermo and the kinetic theory of gases, then Optics and EM if you like. But again you could mix this up in any fashion, I never covered E&M in high school and it wasn't a problem for me (now a graduating university senior). For fluids I would just go with whatever comes in a basic intro textbook like Halliday: Bernoulli's equation, hydrostatics, etc., as the subject in its purest fashion almost immediately requires PDE's and tensor calculus to get anything done.

    I think you could put off EM until you feel ready/motivated to study calculus of more than one variable, as anything you'll pretty quickly need some notions of it to do some of the interesting beginner problems.
  5. Mar 2, 2013 #4
    Thanks, that makes sense. And I'm planning to learn multivariable calculus before learning EM, so that's not a problem. I'll probably do it in a similar order to what you listed, but I just wanted to make sure that it wouldn't be a huge problem to do some things before other things.
  6. Mar 3, 2013 #5


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    That is a good idea.
    And some linear algebra is useful before you start with (quantitative) quantum mechanics.
    Complex analysis can help as well.
  7. Mar 4, 2013 #6
    Is there no option where you can go through your current classes in an accelerated rate, or are you already in your last year? I know some people that could skip a year by just studying everything in the summer holidays. One entered university when he was 16.

    Many universities have detailed information online about their courses, including the prerequisite courses needed. You could take a look at their programs
  8. Mar 4, 2013 #7
    I've still got 3 years of high school left :(. I just moved to Chile and had to go back half a year because the school year here is half a year off from the school year in the U.S. I could have skipped half a year instead of gone back, but my parents want me to have a lot of time to prepare for the PSU (sort of the Chilean SAT but much more important). They want me to study a lot of spanish and Chilean history so I'll do well on the test... I start school in two days, and if I find that it goes TOO slowly, my parents will let me skip a grade (the school already told me I could do it, because I did very well on the math and science section of my admission test- the only problem was spanish). So for now, going to college early isn't much of an option.
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