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Physics and math

  1. Apr 3, 2008 #1
    Am I right in assuming that nowadays, having learned math is a big help as a physicist? It just seems that physics is getting more abstract, with its quantummechanics (and string theory-esque workfields) that don't really allow any analogies with everyday-life and require very complicated math.

    As a scientist I'd love to be able to do any required math myself. I also really love math (currently my favorite subject at school), so trying to combine it with physics (however I would be able to do that) seems the good thing to do. But then again, I don't want to look at math as "something at the side while learning physics", cause math can get incredibly complicated and though very interesting, something like advanced combinatorics seems daunting.

    On a side-note, how important is ICT concerning physics and math? It just seems tremendously helpful, but also taking on that just seems (and probably is) impossible.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 3, 2008 #2


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    Physics and math go hand in hand, you cannot study physics without math.

    This will be obvious even with your first university level Physics course.

    Edit: What is ICT?
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2008
  4. Apr 3, 2008 #3
    Yes, but you can learn maths without any physics.
  5. Apr 3, 2008 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    mathematics is the language of quantitative science, not just physics. The specific mathematics used varies from discipline to discipline, so don't worry about learning esoteric mathematics yet.
  6. Apr 3, 2008 #5


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    I totally agree, but the opposite is most definitely not true, one cannot learn even elementary physics (undergraduate) without a reasonable set of mathematical "tools".
    Information Communication Technology, formally IT. Personally, I don't use ICT for much, the most I usually do on a computer [in relation to academic work] is typing up reports, papers, solution sets, notes etc with LaTeX, I also use GNUplot to visualise functions and occasionally use Mathematica for numerical analysis. I also run a few websites for groups and companies, but that's nothing to do with my academic work.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2008
  7. Apr 3, 2008 #6
    I know that math is included when learning physics, but only on a more basic level. I've read many times that in history, scientists had a good inkling of a certain theory but failed to be the first to actually put it out there due to not mastering the necessary mathematics.

    And my willingness to learn math is not only to help my physics, but also for general interest; math is elegant. So basically, what I'm thinking about is, is combining math and physics doable?

    And as for ICT, well, I don't really know what it's called in English... Basically it comes down to using computer programs and making them yourself.

    EDIT (after reading Hootenanny's post): so you would say ICT isn't crucial, at least when it comes to the heavy stuff where you might need to program yourself.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2008
  8. Apr 3, 2008 #7
    Yeah, I kind of figured that the International Campaign for Tibet, while important, probably wouldn't help much with learning math and science.
  9. Apr 3, 2008 #8
    Well this type of course isn't intended for those who give up very fast on anything, and like the challenge like me.
    I personally learn maths for the sake of maths and physics for its own merit, although there are some conncetions which is best covered in ODE or PDE courses between the two.
    there are also conncetion with discrete maths especially generating functions which are quite common in mathematical physics, or so should i know.
  10. Apr 3, 2008 #9
    I would like to make one correction: ICT is not the same as computer science. Rather, ICT is a subfield of computer science. I don't you will need much ICT for physics as ICT is about setting up and managing information systems for companies (technically, ""the study, design, development, implementation, support or management of computer-based information systems, particularly software applications and computer hardware.").
    Computer science is much broader and much more scientific than ICT. The Wikipedia definition says "Computer science (or computing science) is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and their implementation and application in computer systems.". Computer science is definitely something you will need in physics (almost every physics course offers a class in programming). I see you're Belgian so if you go the KULeuven (where I am right now) to study physics, you will get an introduction to programming.
    If it interests you, you can choose the minor Mathematics during your Physics bachelor at KULeuven. Then, besides the compulsory mathematics courses that every physics student takes, you will have additional maths courses such as advanced algebra, analysis, geometry, fluid dynamics,... During you master, if you choose the track "theoretical physics", you will get even more maths courses.
    However, you can also choose to do a bachelor in Mathematics with a minor in Physics. Then, the emphasis will be on Mathematics but you will also be able to choose some physics courses. During your master (in Mathematics) you can then choose the track "mathematical physics".
    It's up to you where you want to put the emphasis on, physics or mathematics.
  11. Apr 3, 2008 #10
    Thanks for the tips yoran.

    But you know, knowing myself I'd probably not be satisfied without knowing both fields into precision...
  12. Apr 3, 2008 #11
    If you are really good, you can double major. That means that you will earn 2 bachelors in 3 years. The first year is "fairly easy" because then both the mathematics and physics students follow the same courses (except one or two). However, in year 2 and 3, the number of shared courses gets very low so then you have approximately twice as much courses as a normal student, and that is a lot. It's possible but it's really hard and almost no one does it. I know someone who is in third year and who does both but it's kind of exceptional cause the guy won the belgian Mathematical Olympiad and won a silver medal at the IMO.
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