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Physics for the non-physicist

  1. Apr 3, 2010 #1
    I just had a quick question. I went to school for philosophy and education and took very little physics in college but i have always been interested in it. I have read a few books on different subjects within physics that were written for non-physicists. Those books were good in giving a basic understanding but now i want a more comprehensive understanding including knowldge of at least some of the math needed. Does anyone know a good way i could teach myself some physics? What math would i need to know etc?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 3, 2010 #2


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    The math you need depends on your answer to this: How far would you like to go in physics? There are basically two introductory paths: one is at the level appropriate for physical science majors and engineers, the other is for other science majors and general education.

    For the first path, you'll need calculus, for starters. You'll want to take this path if you intend to go into more advanced topics on a more in-depth level (i.e., if you want to know how to actually solve problems).

    For the second path, algebra and a bit of trigonometry. This path may work if you want to go into advanced topics at a layman's level.

    We have a https://www.physicsforums.com/forumdisplay.php?f=160" [Broken] with resources you may find useful.

    Good luck!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  4. Apr 3, 2010 #3
    Thanks for your response and hopefully I can explain a bit better what it is I want to "do" with physics. I am a teacher so I have no intention of ever really doing anything with physics other than just understanding it. When i was getting my undergrad in philosophy one of my classes was philosophy of science and I had a really interesting professor who talked about string theory all the time. I had no idea what that was so I read a bit about it and then got more interested in it and particle physics in general.

    I guess what I want is to have a better understanding of is whats going on at the LHC. I've looked at some essays on what they're trying to do there and I have read a bit about particle collisions in some of the books I've read but a lot of time they show equations and stuff that I just dont understand and that makes it hard for me to understand what and why they are doing.

    I'm the type of person that unless I understand the background it is very hard for me to understand the results I tend to just ask myself why that answer is correct or how I know its correct. Take for example calculus (I took some in high school but dont remember any now). I remember learning how to do derivatives but I had a very hard time solving them until I was taught the definition of a derivative and how it was developed. Of course i dont understand any of that now but thats irrelevant.

    I guess my point is that I would like to know enough of the math and physics so that I could read things about it and really understand what is being said.

    Hope that all made sense...
  5. Apr 4, 2010 #4
    You need a pretty thorough education to understand what is going on at the LHC. Most of an undergraduate physics degree and fair amount of math as well will get you to the level to read an introductory particle physics textbook like Griffiths. In terms of math you'll need multivariable calculus, vector calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations as a bare minimum. In terms of physics you'll want introductory mechanics and electromagnetism, a course beyond that in each would be helpful as well, as well as special relativity and a year of quantum mechanics. Then the most elementary texts on particle physics will be accessible, but you'll need to go much further to understand what is going on at the LHC. However, by this point you'll have been studying this stuff for a few years and so where you'll need to go from there will be clear.
  6. Apr 4, 2010 #5
    If you want to roll around with the LHC, I'd recommend learning some basic Special Relativity.

    I'm an undergrad working in a HEP research group (High Energy Physics, the LHC is in our domain), and I don't understand most of the details or the specifics about the particles themselves, nor do I understand the cool stuff like the relationships between the particles, and various dimensions, and fields that lap into other dimensions and fields that act like molasses and give some particles their mass.

    BUT with some special relativity you can at least understand the basics of how they smash particles together...the basic idea that mass is energy and you can build mass from it, that stuff and SR go well together.

    Also Special Relativity is really cool, and doesn't need that much math imo.
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