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## Main Question or Discussion Point

Good Day,

I am the parent of a first year undergraduate physics student and I was thinking of gifting him a Physics magazine subscription for Christmas but I've come across several (primarily Physics Today and Physics World). Is there one you would recommend in particular? Also we are in Canada so if anyone has any feedback on the Canadian Journal of Physics I would appreciate it.

TIA

fresh_42
Mentor
2018 Award
I am convinced that a few textbooks to start a personal library would be better than a magazine. Professional journals contain too many articles which are either too difficult or not interesting enough. And there is no way to substitute the university's library. Popular magazines on the other hand are often not of the necessary rigor and bear the danger of learning something in a wrong, i.e. too simplified way, which later has to be unlearned again, and that is difficult.

On the other hand, textbooks are expensive and it might be a better idea to wait another year. The first two years have the highest dropout rates. But textbooks are for life. Magazines are more for entertainment in my opinion.

I'm not sure I'm following. He's going to need to purchase the required textbooks for his courses so he'll have those books as a given. I'm not sure how he'd get through his program without textbooks. As for the magazine subscription I'm trying to come up with some ideas for Christmas gifts.

berkeman
Mentor
I used to enjoy skimming and reading through parts of Physics Today in my undergrad years, but that was many years ago. Worst case if he doesn't like it, it's only a 1-year subscription.

Wrichik Basu
Gold Member
2018 Award
Personally I don't like magazines, simply because they over-simplify things to the extent that it no longer remains interesting. Sometimes they bear wrong information as well, which @fresh_42 has aptly mentioned.

If your son/daughter is interested in physics, which means (according to me) learning topics outside the syllabus just for the sake of gaining knowledge, you can buy him/her books dealing in advanced topics. What books you will buy will depend on what he/she is interested in.

If someone asked me, I would have requested a subscription of Physical Review Letters. But as @fresh_42 noted, reading professional journals might become uninteresting to a layman.

In short, if not journals, I would advise books outside the syllabus, but not magazines. Good books will stay for life, not magazines. In fact, there are some books that cover advanced topics, but keep aside the mathematical rigor. Those books are far better than magazines. I have myself read some books in that category before diving into the ocean of rigour.

fresh_42
Mentor
2018 Award

The textbooks for the curriculum usually contain the basics in a field. There is a second level of textbooks which are specialized on certain topics. They are more expensive as they have a lower number of editions, but their selection is a very personal one, depending on where the interests finally go and which authors fit best to one's learning habits. It is difficult nowadays to find something which cannot be found for free as well. Textbooks, however, are the backbone of a study, and not only the mandatory.

Wrichik Basu
Gold Member
2018 Award
Imagine you find an article which interests you. It will usually quote a few dozen other articles in other journals which contain previous work which might be needed to understand the article on your desk, or which are needed to understand the issue as a whole. And each of them has again a long list of references. You come from one and end up in the hundreds.
Very good point. I often find myself in this deadlock. Some papers try to summarise, in a line or two, the main points of some of the important papers cited. These papers can be an easy reading for the beginner.

Another category of papers don't even try to summarise, mostly because the cited paper is important as a whole, and summarising would become a paper itself. Such papers are generally more difficult to read.

Thanks to a certain member of this site, I had an opportunity of reading a paper on nuclear Barnett Effect. I remember finally ending up with Samuel Barnett's paper (however, I completed reading that paper before going into the archived one; the paper was one that could be read by beginners).

@fresh_42 said:
There is a second level of textbooks which are specialized on certain topics.
Ah gotcha. Yeah that's not what I had in mind. I was thinking something along the lines of what's new and interesting in physics research but without needing a PhD to be able to understand.

I think a subscription to Physics Today is a great idea. I would certainly have appreciated it as a gift from my parents. I read it every month. Some of the material is online, true. But much is not. Plus the subscription allows access to older archived articles. It is not a peer-reviewed journal but so what? The material is far better than what you see in the more common "Popular Science" type magazines. Plus the employment advertising might help an undergrad develop a better understanding of what lies in the future.

CrysPhys
Note: A subscription to Physics Today currently costs $25/yr. Members of the American Physical Society (APS) get APS News and Physics Today included in their membership fee. An undergrad student can become a student member for the first year free and subsequently for$25/yr (as long as he remains an undergrad student). Becoming a student member offers more advantages than merely subscribing to Physics Today; all at no extra cost (and less for the first year).

@CrysPhys thanks for letting me know. Well since he'd get the magazine for free for the first year that means I now have to come up with a different idea for a Christmas gift.

fresh_42
Mentor
2018 Award
... that means I now have to come up with a different idea for a Christmas gift.
... only if he is an ASP member as I understood it. So make sure he is. Getting the things run which @gwnorth described can be a gift, too.

@CrysPhys thanks for letting me know. Well since he'd get the magazine for free for the first year that means I now have to come up with a different idea for a Christmas gift.
... only if he is an ASP member as I understood it. So make sure he is. Getting the things run which @gwnorth described can be a gift, too.
Right, Physics Today is part of the APS (Amer. Physical Society) package. The APS News has interesting items too.

I was thinking about the comments on books vs. magazines. If you wanted to gift books, the Feynman Lectures might be a good choice. They are very unlikely to be assigned texts for any course, but they are almost universally regarded as worth reading at some point. Again, they are now available online so if you're not a book lover then maybe the cost of the print version would hold you back. They are pricey (125 USD for the three volume set). Though you can buy them individually (there's three years Christmas gifts).

Andy Resnick
Good Day,

I am the parent of a first year undergraduate physics student and I was thinking of gifting him a Physics magazine subscription for Christmas but I've come across several (primarily Physics Today and Physics World). Is there one you would recommend in particular? Also we are in Canada so if anyone has any feedback on the Canadian Journal of Physics I would appreciate it.

TIA
I think purchasing your child a 1-year (or X-years as per your prerogative) membership in the American Physics Society (who publishes Physics Today as part of membership privileges) is a fantastic idea!

ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
2018 Award
@CrysPhys thanks for letting me know. Well since he'd get the magazine for free for the first year that means I now have to come up with a different idea for a Christmas gift.
This is ONLY if he joins the Society of Physics Student, or lacking an SPS chapter at his school, an individual student membership to the APS.

Note that while others pooh-pooh "magazines" such as Physics Today, I highly recommend it to undergraduate student even if a few of the articles might be a bit more advanced. This is because Physics Today has (i) news articles of what's new and exciting in physics (ii) broader news and happening that involves societal issues, and (iii) sometime basic, elementary coverage of physics topics. So I definitely recommend students in the US to be a member of the SPS and read Physics Today simply to broaden their horizons.

So while this doesn't quite answer your question, you can either encourage your son to seek out and become a member of the local SPS, or get him a membership directly, even if the first year is free.

As for your "christmas gift", it is never a waste to give him a more advanced reference text. If you have the funds, I agree with gmax and get him the complete set of Feynman Lectures. I do not recommend the text pedagogically for students trying to learn the topics for the first time. However, this text will grow with him as he advances along his studies, because at some point, he'll find useful tit-bits to take from it. Even in the beginning, just reading Feynman's take on certain topics without understanding the physics can be entertaining.

Zz.

Wrichik Basu
Gold Member
2018 Award
@gwnorth If you decide to give books, whatever books it might be, make sure to include Feynman's legendary book "QED - The Strange Theory of Light and Matter". I highly recommend it to everyone, and is a must-read for physics students.

Another good book is "The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World" by Sean Carroll.

My uncle had gifted me a number of books written by G. Venkataraman. The series "Quantum Revolution" has 3 books, "Vol I - The Breakthrough", "Vol II - QED - The Jewel of Physics" and "Vol III - What is Reality?". Another interesting series by him is "The Big and the Small" (Vol I and Vol II).

If you decide to give books, whatever books it might be, make sure to include Feynman's legendary book "QED - The Strange Theory of Light and Matter". I highly recommend it to everyone, and is a must-read for physics students.
Yes I like this one very much.

Thank you everyone for your replies. I'll be sure to check out all the recommendations.

robphy
Homework Helper
Gold Member
@gwnorth If you decide to give books, whatever books it might be, make sure to include Feynman's legendary book "QED - The Strange Theory of Light and Matter". I highly recommend it to everyone, and is a must-read for physics students.
The videos that go along with the QED book are Feynman's 1979 Robb Lectures at Auckland

Another Feynman book is The Character of Physical Law.
The videos that go along with this book are Feynman's 1964 Messenger Lectures at Cornell
https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/project/tuva-richard-feynman/

Dr. Courtney
Gold Member
2018 Award
Physics Today is a great choice.

DrClaude
Mentor
Also we are in Canada so if anyone has any feedback on the Canadian Journal of Physics I would appreciate it.
The Canadian Journal of Physics is a research journal, not appropriate for an undergraduate.

However, you may consider a membership in the Canadian Association of Physicists which will include the magazine Physics in Canada. While not of the same quality as Physics Today, it gives a good idea of what is happening in the world of physics in Canada.

@DrClaude thanks for the distinction. Yes it sounds like Physics in Canada would be more appropriate. I have looked at CAP's website and since he's decided definitively on majoring in Physics I was going to suggest to him that he sign up for a free student membership but I see now that there is a membership + magazine subscription option so I'll do it for him and pay the fee. Even though we aren't American I'm going set him up with a student membership to APS as well also so he can get the subscription to Physics Today too. Thanks once again.

ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus