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Physics for fun?

  1. Mar 5, 2007 #1
    Well my engineering degree only required Physics 211 and 212 (Basically, most of the Halliday/Resnick Textbook) and I've already finished them. All of my remaining courses, if they introduce any new physics will be in the engineering context. But, I'm still am very curious about general relativity and quantum mechanics, particle physics, whatever is higher level, which I don't think I'll be seeing unless I pursue it myself.

    What I want to know is, what is the physics topic progression so that I can look into getting a textbook or something to read in my spare time?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 5, 2007 #2


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    You only want to READ for fun of physics? The typical "engineering" undergraduate physics should include a "Modern Physics" course which comes after the E & M fundamental course. It is usually a more FUN course for students; the topic of optics tends to be somewhat more fun than were mechanics and E & M. Both the laboratory exercises and the lecture portion are typically either more interesting or fun.
  4. Mar 5, 2007 #3


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    A good general progression is mechanics, modern physics, electricity & magnetism, thermodynamics/statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics. You'll cover relativity as part of both mechanics and E&M. Physics majors will usually take multivariate calculus (often including linear algebra), ordinary and partial differential equations, and a math methods class sophomore or junior year covering orthogonal functions, spherical harmonics, delta and green functions and other stuff.

    Your EE math classes will probably cover much of this (especially lin alg and diff eqs) and some valuable stuff like complex variables and fourier transforms that the physics majors just get a glimpse of. Make sure you fill in the rest with a math methods class or self study.

    The question of books is always worth a vigorous discussion. Take a look at the Science Book Reviews in the Academic and Career forum here for detailed discussions on all the topics mentioned, and steer towards books that teach the way that suits you best (mathematical, physical, wordy or terse, etc.). Here are my suggestions, with choices skewed more towards the practical approach typical of engineering curiculuum.

    Mechanics Marion, Classical Dynamics, 2nd edition (stay clear of recent editions which are poorer).
    Kleppner, Intro to Mechanics is well liked, though I haven't used it.
    Modern Physics Tipler
    E&M Schwartz, Principles of Electrodynamics. Written by a Nobel laureate, available now for just $12 from Dover, this is not an easy book but it conveys the beauty and unity of E&M better than any other undergrad book.
    Reitz and Milford. Straightforward E&M text with more applications (especially magnetism and waveguides) than most.
    Griffiths, Intro to Electrodynamics is a standard choice for physics majors.
    Math Methods Boas or Riley
    Quantum Mechanics Anderson, Intro to QM and Modern Physics. Out of print (so you can get it used cheaply!), one of the most straightforward and logical treatments of undergrad QM.

    That should take you two or three years to get through since you are presumably studying engineering full time!
  5. Mar 6, 2007 #4
    It sounds like you just want a sampling of concepts in "upper-division" courses. Well if you have the mathematics behind you, you could go to your univeristy library and wander around the physics/mathematics section until you start bumping into topics that seem to relate to what you are interested in...but that is more of a hit or miss form of understanding the material.

    In terms of progression:

    A Rebuff of Classical Mechanics (Not goldstein, necessarily...you could pull off Folwes and Cassiday).

    Modern Physics Text- Pretty much any modern physics book will do pretty well. As suggested by my modern physics professor: "it doesn't really matter, just pick something cheap, that cover the syalibus." And the best way to cover the syalibus is to just look it up.

    Formal E&M course (Go with what has already been suggested), if you want a treat, as suggested by my professor, get ahold of Maxwell's original text (its two volumes). I have worked with it, it takes a bit of staring at, but things will eventually start clicking with it.

    Statistical/Thermo Physics- Find a syalibus and play it by feel.
  6. Mar 6, 2007 #5


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    It sounds like you're at Penn State from those course numbers.

    Anyway, I'd highly recommend reading Feynman's lectures. They're full of interesting insights. There's also Penrose's Road to Reality, which is a nice semi-technical overview of many different things. You'd need to supplement it with other books to understand much, though. I don't think that the standard physics major education is really a good idea for you. A lot of that material is quite boring and/or technical, and is intended mainly to fasttrack you towards a research career. It's great if that's what you want, but not the best for fun reading IMO.
  7. Mar 8, 2007 #6
    I am also interested in getting a better understanding of physics, than my engineering(EE) program gives me.

    A year ago, I bought Feynman lectures on physics. Very nice reading, but without examples or problems all the nice theory got lost. I am particularly interested in getting a deeper understanding in electromagnetics(how to understand Maxwell's eq's and derive what I need from there). I ordered some of the books marcusl suggested on E&M(Schwartz) and QM(Anderson). Lets see if they will become useful to me.

    What is your experience in learning by yourself? How much time have you spent on a subject per day/week? How much do you do proofs and solve problems?
  8. Mar 8, 2007 #7


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    I think it varies by person and by situation. If I need to learn something to solve a problem for work, then I'm very motivated (getting paid helps!). I work problems to learn the material, and move quickly. Having to solve a real life problem is the ultimate test of mastering the material, so there's a great feeling of satisfaction at the end.

    For a topic of casual interest, my pace is leisurely and I may not work many problems or proofs. I'm reading Harrison's Solid State Physics, for example, at a rate of about 20 pages per week. I don't do solid state physics and will never need to calculate band structures or crystal eigenfunctions, so I'm not worried about mastering the nuts and bolts. I'm still learning a lot!
  9. Mar 8, 2007 #8


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    I highly recommend David Griffiths' Introduction to Electrodynamics. A good, clear and readable book very well suited for self-study.
  10. Mar 9, 2007 #9
    Do you think I could skip classical mechanics and just pick up a Modern Physics book?

    Edit: Classic mechanics sounds to me like more detail in something familiar; I'd prefer to investigate new concepts.

    Edit2: Maybe I should ask, does physics require a linear education?

    Edit3: I looked into my school's physics major and they seem to progress into 307 Introductiton to Modern Physics after 211 and 212.
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2007
  11. Mar 9, 2007 #10


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    You could pick up a typical "modern physics" book without knowing any more classical mechanics than you got out of Halliday and Resnick. Despite that, any serious study of QM or relativity (which such books are not meant to give) requires borrowing very heavily from the concepts you'd learn in an advanced mechanics course. The structure of QM is actually very similar to classical mechanics, which you'd never realize knowing only the Newtonian formulation.

    An upper-level mechanics course is certainly not "more of the same." It would have almost no overlap with the freshman mechanics course you took. The techniques are completely different, and really very interesting. It was easily one of my favorite courses.
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