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Prerequisites to modern physics?

  1. Apr 15, 2013 #1
    So, I'm a third year electrical engineer, with a heavy interest in more advanced / theoretical / particle physics.

    I have a few questions actually.
    What more should I learn before trying to tackle special / general relativity, quantum mechanics, etc?
    Is there a particular order I should learn those topics in?
    And are there any books you recommend on the subjects?

    Here's what I currently know in math and physics:

    Multivariable calculus (I've worked through 5 dimensions if that's important)
    Linear algebra
    Differential equations
    Complex (imaginary) calculus
    Frequency (continuous and discreet) domain analysis (Fourier, Z, and Laplace transforms)
    Currently in a probability and random variables course.

    Basic first year college physics (mechanics, rotational motion, thermodynamics, waves, electronics and magnetism)
    As an EE, I of course know a lot more about electronics.
    I am currently in a dedicated E&M course.

    I'd also like to clarify that I don't just want a theoretical understanding, but a mathematical understanding, meaning, that I can actually solve problems, rather than just know approximately how it works.

    This is also my first time on Physics Forums, so if I've done anything wrong, or if you need more information, let me know! Thank you!

    EDIT: I realized I should mention that I'll be teaching myself everything, in case that wasn't clear.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 15, 2013 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    I suggest you start with an "introductory modern physics" textbook of the kind that is used for a class that often follows the freshman intro physics sequence (mechanics / E&M / thermo). Here's the book that I used for several years:


    There are several other similar textbooks. You'll find links to some of them on that Amazon page.

    At the college where I had my first teaching job after grad school, all the EE majors were in fact required to take a course like this.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  4. Apr 19, 2013 #3
    Any thoughts regarding my first 2 questions (or additions to the third)?

    Thank you jtbell for your recommendation!
  5. Apr 19, 2013 #4
    You've taken more maths/physics courses than is required at my university to do an intro quantum mechanics course that's roughly based on Griffiths. So I think that you're more than ready to start QM.
  6. Apr 19, 2013 #5
    From the looks of it, it seems that you've got all of the math covered. As for the answer to your first question, just the basics of special / general relativity, but I'm sure you've gotten those narrowed down. As for QM, I'd recommend taking a chemistry course if you haven't already.

    As for the second one, it's a bit unclear. Are you talking about Modern Physics, or the topics mentioned in your first question? If so, then Special Relativity > General Relativity > Quantum Mechanics.

    I'm not sure about your third question, there are a lot of books out there on those various subjects. I'd say your best bet would be a textbook since you're learning the material on your own. As for recommendations, I'm not sure, sorry. :frown:

    Hopefully this helped!
  7. Apr 19, 2013 #6


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    Science Advisor

    Why would someone need to learn GR before learning QM?
  8. Apr 19, 2013 #7
    And why would you need chemistry for QM?
  9. Apr 19, 2013 #8
    I initially meant the order to learn the modern physics topics in, but I guess it applies to any pre-requisites as well. Thanks for the thoughts!
  10. Apr 19, 2013 #9
    One wouldn't need too, I'd presume someone would know GR before QM.
  11. Apr 19, 2013 #10
    Again, someone wouldn't need to. Someone would already have taken chemistry before QM.
  12. Apr 19, 2013 #11

    QM is a standard undergrad course. Many PhD's in physics never even study GR. I have no idea why you would presume this.
  13. Apr 19, 2013 #12


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    Science Advisor

    This is completely false.
  14. Apr 19, 2013 #13
    I know that QM is a standard course for undergrad. I didn't mean SR as an actual course, just a brushed topic in a physics lecture.
  15. Apr 19, 2013 #14
    Actually, I haven't taken chemistry yet. Haha. I've been putting off my "breadth" courses, so take that into account.
  16. Apr 19, 2013 #15
    That's fine. It doesn't really matter. :p
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