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Regular calculus vs calculus engineering?

  1. May 1, 2013 #1
    I'll be taking my first calculus class ever on this coming fall. I am pretty excited for it. I want to major in Chemical engineering, and when I have looked at the university class lists it says engineering for calculus and I am in a community college which means my calculus class will be a regular class. Is there a significant difference between the topics covered in both courses? I heard the cal for engineers is just more relevant to engineering and most of the examples and problems given will be a real engineering problems.

  2. jcsd
  3. May 1, 2013 #2
    That's usually it. The classes often use slightly different versions of the same textbook. So the format is more or less the same. There's also usually less emphasis on proofs and derivations.
  4. May 1, 2013 #3
    Thanks for your input. So if went ahead and took the regular calculus, I won't be at a disadvantage when i transfer to university and sit amongs kids who took the cal for engineering?
  5. May 1, 2013 #4


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    do you want to know more how to use it or more why the statements are true?
  6. May 1, 2013 #5
    I am asking for the difference between the two. For example, are there some topics/contents that are specific to the cal for the engineering, or are they about the same?
  7. May 1, 2013 #6


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    The general answer is that for most non-honors calculus courses, they would roughly be the same. Differences may focus more on solving physics related problems vs using the squeeze theorem to prove a statement or proving limits by definition, etc. At the end of the day, for most non-honor calc student (for calc 1 at least) as long as you learn to take a derivative and do basic integration, you've learned all you need to really know. The various 'filler' (lack of a better word) may vary but even then it's fairly standard. ( ie related rates, disc method, max and min problems, etc.) I imagine the term calc for engineer is just a the buzz word used to tell people, "Don't worry proofs won't be here!"
  8. May 2, 2013 #7
    Calculus doesn't really differentiate itself until you get into advanced treatments of Calculus, such as Real Analysis, Complex Analysis, and Calculus of Variations. Also, there might be a course called Advanced Calculus, which is basically Calculus 3 on steroids. They also call that course Intermediate Analysis. Calculus 1...3, ODE and PDE should all be 90% the same.
  9. May 2, 2013 #8
    Well, if you were comparing two classes at the same university, it's almost the other way around. The regular calculus classes are in a sense more mathematically rigorous, but with less application. However it's hard to compare regular calc at a community college to engineering calc somewhere else.

    If you're more abstractly minded, you'll find the application stuff in ENG calculus a bit tedious, but if you are of such a mind, you're probably not an engineering major. :tongue:

    Essentially though it's not about easy or difficult, but emphasis. Most engineerlings don't care where the formulas came from. Just "tell me what formula to use and how to use it." That is what you'll get from engineering calculus.

    I would argue it's easier to "catch up" to doing applications than than the other way around. In other words, if you have a deeper understanding of the mathematics you can apply it to anything. You'll be short on practice on a few 'word problems.' Is that so bad?

    Of course, as an engineer, your career will consist entirely of "word problems." But your other classes, eventual on the job experience, etc. will eventually take care of that.

    -Dave K
  10. May 2, 2013 #9
    I think what Mathwonk means to say is, "do you just want to know how to apply calculus? Or do you want to know why/how it works?"

    That very shortly sums up the difference between the two classes.

    -Dave K
  11. May 2, 2013 #10
    Of course we're not talking about what calculus does to itself, but how universities teach courses with different goals in mind. There is definitely a difference between an applied/physics treatment of calculus vs. a theorem based approach.

    -Dave K
  12. May 2, 2013 #11


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    What mathwonk said IS the difference. Mathematicians are more interested in why calculus is "true" (and finding the conditions when it isn't true). Engineers and physicists are more interested in using it. Almost always, the general asssumptions made in setting up a mathematical model of the physics mean it IS "true", so engineering and physics calc courses don't spend much time worrying about that - certainly not in a first calculus course.
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