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Physics major without pde?

  1. Nov 30, 2006 #1
    well I just got into UMASS at amhearst from my community college, I should be going there in the spring but as I looked over the requirements for their physics mjor I noticed something.

    for the professional track they only require multivariable calculus and ordinary differential equations.

    is this normal for a physics major? or is it likely that this program ismissing something?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 30, 2006 #2


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    Professional track, meaning that you might end up as a high school teacher of physics ? In that case not too much math is required to know, since you won't be using it in your job.

  4. Nov 30, 2006 #3
    professional track as in go on to grad school or technical field, I certainly do intend on taking partial differential equations, but I'm a bit concernedover it not being a required part of the major.

    I fear that some of the classes that should use partial differential eqations might not.
  5. Nov 30, 2006 #4


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    Either as a professional physicist or as an engineer, you definitely need basics of linear PDE-s. If they're not compulsory, then, for your welfare, you must apply for this course.

    I don't think you can honestly avoid PDE-s when teachign physics.

  6. Nov 30, 2006 #5
    hmm I suppose I'll just have to talk to the department when I get there, it may be that they expect their students to absorb pde's via osmosis.
  7. Nov 30, 2006 #6
    You can't finish QM and E&M without learning something about PDEs and orthogonal functions, so maybe they are counting on that. But are you sure there isn't some required course that covers at least Fourier analysis?
  8. Nov 30, 2006 #7
    PDEs are not required for my physics major, but I am currently taking it as part of my double major in math and it has already been extremely useful in my physics classes this term (especially optics). From personal experience I would recommend than every physics major take a PDE course. Take it as an elective if it is not required. You get exposure to a wide variety of math "tools" used in physics, like Fourier series and transforms, other integral transforms (like Laplace), series solutions of both ODEs and PDEs, special functions, etc. Plus once you separate the PDE, their are 2,3, or 4 ODEs to solve, and we all know a physicist can never solve enough ODEs :smile:
  9. Nov 30, 2006 #8
    hmm I've been searching through there course descriptions andit looks a bit like each course introduces the required mathmatics
  10. Nov 30, 2006 #9
    Not having a formal PDE course is actually quite common in my school. It is picked up through other courses, and the ODE course covers a brief day or two (depending on the professor) goving over the general concepts behind solving PDE's.

    Heck the math department at my school doesn't even offer a PDE course, the closet you can get is an advanced Diff. Eq. course. But a decent amount of math professionals, engineers, physicists, and chemists have and are plowing through the material.

    If they offer a PDE course, yeah I would take it (once every couple of years they offer one at my school as a "Topics" course, which is normally a lecture series), but I wouldn't worry about not having the course...you'll likly see enough of them in other classes to have a decent understanding of what to do when you see them.

    Not sure how this translates to Grad School though....
  11. Nov 30, 2006 #10
    Oh, grad school, that's easy. Here's the PDE text:


  12. Nov 30, 2006 #11
    At my school it was a senior level math class of our choosing, so everyone usually picks PDEs, or possibly complex variable analysis
  13. Nov 30, 2006 #12
    That's the usual method in a lot of physics courses, but I think ideally it is better to learn the maths first. Then it's easier to pick up the underlying physics, because you aren't trying to learn two things at once.
  14. Nov 30, 2006 #13
    At UC Davis there is a required upper division series that covers the math:

    104A. Introductory Methods of Mathematical Physics (4)

    Introduction to the mathematics used in upper-division physics courses, including applications of vector spaces, Fourier analysis, partial differential equations.

    104B. Computational Methods of Mathematical Physics (4)

    Introduction to the use of computational techniques to solve the mathematical problems that arise in advanced physics courses, complementing the analytical approaches emphasized in course 104A.

    104C. Intermediate Methods of Mathematical Physics (4)

    Applications of complex analysis, conditional probability, integral transformations and other advanced topics. Not offered every year.
  15. Nov 30, 2006 #14
    I see they cover Fourier series in a "Techniques of Theoretical Physics" class:


    Seems to overlap a lot, though, with what is typically "Calc III". And indeed I see that they cover a lot of PDE material in their "E&M II" course:


    Typically you will see undergrad QM and E&M texts showing you how to do seperation of variables and that sort of thing, but usually with a certain "as you may already know" flavor.
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2006
  16. Nov 30, 2006 #15


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    At my uni the phsyics dept offered a course on "Equations of Mathematical Physics" which at that time seemed difficult and rather useless (weak solutions to linear PDE-s mostly). Nevertheless, it was something better than nothing.

  17. Nov 30, 2006 #16
    I have to admit that I don't remember much from the PDE course that I took except for lots of Fourier series and the hottie that sat next to me for most of the course.
  18. Nov 30, 2006 #17


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    That course of mine didn't have Fourier transformations at all. It was done mostly from Vladimirov's "Equations of Mathematical Physics" and Mikhlin's "Linear Partial Differential Equations".

  19. Nov 30, 2006 #18

    George Jones

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    Last edited: Nov 30, 2006
  20. Nov 30, 2006 #19


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    anybody who does not know something about the heat equation, the wave equation, and the laplace equation, would make a very curious physicist, or mathematician either for that matter.

    even as an algebraic geometer, the primary tool in my study of abelian varieties is the theta function, a basic solution of the heat equation, and its most fundamental deformation theoretic properties are derived from that equation, as shown by alan mayer.

    the heat equation for the theta function even has an abstract algebraic formulation, proved by gerald welters.
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