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Physics without calculus

  1. Sep 1, 2006 #1
    I'm taking my first college physics course this semester and I couldn't be more exited. Only one thing wories me. The course and book claims to not require calculus. I'm worried that I will be missing out on many key concepts, because my plan is to transfer from the small liberal arts school that I am to the University of Puerto Rico (the best school choice in Puerto Rico for CE).

    Will I be missing a lot of important details needed for a carreer in science?

    The text is "contemporary college physics" by Jones and childers
    ISBN 007-561828-1

    Is there anything I should pay more attention or any additional studies I should persue during the semester?

    How hard was your first college physics experience?

    any insight or links would be greatly appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 1, 2006 #2


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    I think it is normal that a first course past high-school level be calculus free. Mine was. You won't be missing on key concept IMHO. And if you want to know, I found all my physics course difficult, including the first non-calculus one. Physics is not easy. But fortunately, it is as fun as it is difficult. :)
  4. Sep 1, 2006 #3
    Thanks very much. Its good to know that I may not fall behind in that subject. I agree, it is a difficult and time consuming subject, but it is definitly fun, in a very masochist sort of way :).
  5. Sep 1, 2006 #4


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    boy, my experience is different. there is no way to understand the concepts of velocity and acceleration without the concepts of limits and the derivative. how does one derive or understand the centripetal acceleration of a body going around a circle of radius [itex]r[/itex] at a velocity [itex]v[/itex]. how can you derive or understand the acceleration being

    [tex] a = \frac{v^2}{r} [/tex] ?

    how do you understand work and energy without the concept of integrating force over translational distance?

    Limits, derivatives, integrals are the core of single variable calculus. how does one do physics without such concepts?

    Newton needed to invent calculus to create the first really useful set of physical concepts to humankind. i can't see how an undergraduate can learn diddley physics without the necessary mathematical tools.
  6. Sep 1, 2006 #5


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    What branch of science will you be pursuing? At my undergrad school, there were two tracks of physics classes. The easy non-calculus track with a couple of basic courses that non-science majors typically took, and the regular physics track that expected you to be taking calculus at the same time, so that the two sets of courses could complement each other. Are you planning on taking calculus at some time? Why are you not taking it at the same time as this physics class? Is there an alternate physics track at this school that does offer a first class that expects you to be taking calculus at the same time?

    EDIT -- For example, I guess if the science you are interested in is biology, you might not need calculus or the advanced physics track....
  7. Sep 1, 2006 #6
    My first physics class ever was calculus based physics I, called engineering physics I at my college. For most of the other people in the class, it was also their first physics class. I later took algebra based physics II and was horrified at the treatment of mathematics in the class.

    In algebra based physics, they try to explain the concepts and insist you just memorize the formulas. In a calculus physics class, the professor should derive the formula in class or make you do it as a home work assignment.

    if you are any kind of hard science major, including biology, you should take the calc based physics course, anything else is a waste of time for you. If your a psychology or business major, then the algebra based class won't hurt you at all.
  8. Sep 1, 2006 #7


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    In my case, i took non-calculus based general physics in high school, and there were always a lot of equations i couldn't derive. When i got into college and took calculus based general physics, a lot of the concepts became clearer and most of the formulas i could derive from the definitions and basic ideas. I found the college course to be more in depth.

    is "CE" Civil engineering?
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2006
  9. Sep 1, 2006 #8
    ^agreed algebra based physics is really reserved for either highschool physics classes or physics classes for people who need the credit.

    if your college doesn't have a calculus based physics course I would recommend talking to your professor and doing an independant study in calculus based physics out of a different textbook.
  10. Sep 1, 2006 #9
    I does sound to me like you signed up for "Physics for non-science majors" course. If you haven't had calculus, take it this semester and start the calculus-based sequence Physics next semester. If you have had calculus, try to switch to the calculus-based Physics course. (And there are different tracks for calculus, too. You want at least the one for scientists and engineers.)

    I suppose it can't hurt to take the non-calculus based course if you don't have calculus yet, but I think you could better use that slot getting a GE course out of the way. You're would have to start all over again anyway, and there's already enough redundancy in the Physics curriculum as it is.

    If you don't have any familiarity with physics and just want an intro to some physics concepts, then pick up an easy book like Asimov's Understanding Physics (but I bet if you're posting here you probably have read some popular books already).
  11. Sep 1, 2006 #10
    quote berkeman
    Computer engineering is my planned major, but I'm open for change if I find a more interesting subject. I'm really having fun with math, so math or math intensive subjects are my present inclination.

    Quote berkeman

    Actually I am taking calc 1 right now but is not a requierement for this physics one. The only requirement is pre-calc.

    quote berkeman

    regretably, no. I'm at this school to get the 48 credits hours required by the University of Puerto Rico for transfer students ( I'm 28, served in the army for 8 years, but only had 9 credits from a long time ago.). Most students at my current school are education or bussiness majors. To give you a hint of the quality of my school, the highest math requiered of math education majors is calc1, same for the few comp science students. I think thats outright scary. Calc 2 might not even be an option for me next year.

    quote RBJ
    That makes all the sense in the world. It seems that I'm being cheated out of a lot basic knowledge

    quote kdinser
    Then I will get hurt. the innerworkings of the universe is what interest me the most. Maybe I can retake it when I get to UPR.

    quote CPL.luke

    Problem is that I'm just now taking calculus. My schedule is pretty tough right now but I will take your sugestion to my professor, maybe he can do something about that. But as I said before, I'm just now taking calc 1 so I might not be able to do it since I lack the requiered knowledge. how hard do you think it would be to take calc based physics concurrently with calc one?

    I guess I will retake physics one when I get to UPR
  12. Sep 1, 2006 #11
    My current knowledge and physics concepts are purely qualitative. I read magazines, books but above all the internet. I think I understand many concepts very well but I have yet to test my perceptions of physics against real math. I really have no options as this is the only physics class offered at my school.

    BTW thanks to all that replied. It has helped raised some good questions. Any other sugestions, links or sugested reading would be greatly appreciated.
  13. Sep 1, 2006 #12
    Sorry, I didn't read your original post very closely. If they have an engineering school there, then they may have separate "Statics", "Dynamics", and "Electromagnetics" courses. At least that's what I remember from tutoring engineering students.
  14. Sep 1, 2006 #13


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    The problem involving work always involved linear displacement in the direction of the force, such that [itex]W=F\Delta x[/itex] could be applied. Some of the formulae, such as the ones for potential energy, were derived using calculus but none of the exercices in the book required the student to use calculus in the solution. Surprisingly, I recall the author (Benson) of the book we were using was able to prove the centripetal acceleration formula using only geometrical arguments!

    Btw, I was 17 at the time and taking my first calculus course ever at the same time as that mechanics couse. How old are you Gablar16?
  15. Sep 1, 2006 #14

    Well I'm a little late for the education race, I'm 28. My problem is not the age, as they say, is never too late to learn. My problem is the fundamentals, I dont have very good ones. I was a mediocre HS student and the highest math I took in school was algebra. Even though I've had a strong interest on science since I was a kid, I dont have a good math background, so I have many gaps on my math knowledge. I've been trying really hard to fill as many gaps as possible since I started school, and so far I think I've done a pretty good job. Thats why I questioned the use of calculus in physics 1, to avoid more knowledge gaps for the future and maximize my learning ability when I get to the more advanced clases.
  16. Sep 1, 2006 #15
    You cannot learn physics without calculus, period. All algebra based physics courses are exercises in futility.
  17. Sep 1, 2006 #16


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    leright is leright, there is no physics without calculus. or wait,.. is it that there is no caLCULUS WITHOUT PHYSICS? WAIT I'LL GET BACK TO YOU...
  18. Sep 2, 2006 #17
    I'm going to go out on a limb here and speak from my experience.

    I started by taking a General Physics 1 course that claimed to have calculus (that stupid "physics for scientists and engineers" book), but the calculus was not used in solving problems-- only in deriving *some* formulas. I was also taking calculus 1 at the same time, so being exposed to derivatives right off the bat in Physics wouldn't have done any good because I wouldn't have understood them.

    However, when I took Physics 2, I was glad that I had already taken calculus 2 (integral calculus) because this course was very intense with integrals. etc.

    I'm currently taking Physics 3 (modern physics) and the first lecture we derived the electromagnetic wave equation using Maxwell's equations,partial derivatives and differential equations etc. Mind you, the only pre-requisite for Physics 3 is Calculus 1 and 2. It seems as though the Physics classes are always a bit ahead of the math we have to take.

    If you study hard, and maybe do some additional reading, you'll be fine.
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2006
  19. Sep 2, 2006 #18
    You don't have to do all that much calculus in a physics I course, but you need to kind of understand what a limit is, what a derivative is, and what an integral is to understand where the fomulas are coming from. That's the part that is lacking in the algbra based course, they just tell you that this is the formula for distance, this is the formula for velocity, this is the formula for ......
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