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Self Study for Math and Physics

  1. Jan 2, 2016 #1
    What would a recommended track be for someone that has had next to no exposure to physics?

    I was thinking of going this route after taking taking the single variable calculus course(paired with Calculus Made Easy by Thompson) on OpenCourseWare:

    Feynman Lectures Vol. 1
    An Introduction to Mechanics - Kleppner

    Feynman Lectures Vol. 2
    Electricity and Magnetism - Purcell

    Feynman Lectures Vol.3
    Waves - Crawford Jr.

    Would something like this be recommended, or is there a more efficient way?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 2, 2016 #2


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    Why on opencourseware?

    K&K and Purcell are difficult books, I wouldn't recommend Purcell unless you're also concurrently taking multivariate calculus and have been exposed to SR (not from K&K, although the second edition isn't so bad) at a minimum. I don't think K&K is appropriate for a first introduction to mechanics, if you haven't had high school physics. Feynman lectures aren't textbooks, and I wouldn't even bother reading them until you've done Mechanics and E&M already.
  4. Jan 2, 2016 #3
    K&K and Purcell are pretty challenging. If you are studying by yourself it wouldn't hurt to start off with a easier book like Halliday & Resnick Physics or Fundamentals of Physics.

    Calculus Made Easy is a nice little book, but I found that I was wasting time by spending time working through it. I would exchange that (and the OCW) for a good old textbook such as Thomas' Calculus with Analytical Geometry.

    As for the Feynman Lectures, they do not replace textbooks. But they are entertaining and I find they inspire me to want to learn more, and I use them as bedtime readings. Perhaps they could do the same for you.
  5. Jan 2, 2016 #4
    I was gonna do OCW just to have a video lecture component to supplement the book. If one of the big calculus books would be better then I'll just do that. Why is a book like Calculus Made Easy not that good in the long run and why would you pick Thomas' Calculus over the other calculus books like Spivak?

    Would the Halliday book be a better choice for an introduction to physics? If that's the case which book would you recommend, his Physics, vol. 1 or Fundamentals of Physics? As for Feynman, I intended to use the books more as a supplement rather than as main readings. Pretty much like how MondayMan described.
  6. Jan 2, 2016 #5
    If you need video lectures to supplement matchbooks, then you are not at the level to read Spivak. Spivak is considered an introduction to analysis book. Therefore, it requires a person to be able to read, understand, and formulate proofs. The older editions of Halliday are better. I prefer the 3rd edition. Older editions of Serway are also nice. If you need video lectures and have never taken a physics course, then Spivak and Kleppner are outside of your ability.
  7. Jan 2, 2016 #6
    Calculus Made Easy isn't terrible as a quick introduction. I actually used it while I was taking my final Pre-Calc class, just to get an idea of what calculus is all about. But it isn't a comprehensive book, and I think your time will be better spent working through a legit textbook. It could perhaps serve as a second reference.

    I would recommend Thomas over Spivak for the reason MidgetDwarf stated: Spivak is a challenging book that is on the analysis side of calculus and probably shouldn't be used as a first exposure. From what I hear, one can quickly become frustrated over the challenging exercises. I'm personally working through Thomas' textbook, while occasionally referencing Serge Lang's A First Course in Calculus, and I find it's been working well for me.

    H&R would be a much more suitable introductory physics text, as would Matter and Interactions V. I/II.

    Just a personal opinion: do away with the video lectures and get yourself a solid textbook. If you find you are consistently running into trouble, and unable to progress after repeated attempts, that may be a sign your math foundations are on the weak end and need some work.
  8. Jan 3, 2016 #7


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    H&R physics 4th or 5th editions would be a good choice, go through volume 1 while you're finishing the second part of calculus two. Once you're done with that, study linear algebra while going through K&K. Study vector calculus and supplement the SR from K&K with other texts and then go through Purcell.

    I'm assuming you're eventually going to take these courses for credit somewhere, so just do your best to get what you can out of the self studying before you take it for credit.

    For intro calculus, I'm always a fan on Anton's 5th edition "new horizons" text, although the vector sections are kind of weak.

    Try to find books as cheaply as possible. Second edition or first edition K&K will work, I'd recommend the third edition of Purcell.
  9. Jan 3, 2016 #8
    If you need supplement problems to the very introductory material (kinematics, force dynamics, gravitation and springs, etc.), feel free to shoot me a PM! I took a prepatory 8 week physics mechanic class last semester and still have problem sets that greatly complement introductory calculus knowledge (doesn't require intensive application skills like related rates or derivative tests and vice versa for integrals).
  10. Jan 3, 2016 #9
    Thanks for the suggestions. Just for some background, Im just finishing up getting my diploma for my computer programming and Analysis program. Im going to be starting my co-op term tomorrow which lasts until the end of the year. Earlier I had an honours BA in liberal arts. After I got my degree I realized that programming was what really interested me so I took a programming program at my community college. Over the past year my interest in science and math increased by a ton, to the point where I want to be able to combine my programming with physics in some way(unsure how feasible this is).
    Originally I wanted to become a graphics programmer, which as a specialization already requires me to know some linear algebra, calculus, and physics. So the plan was to self study these areas until I felt comfortable enough with them to take the accredited courses so I can have the prerequisites to transfer into Computer Science. Now that Im extremely interested in science, particularly astronomy/astrophysics/computational physics, I'd want to transfer into the bachelor of science program which would allow me to major in both computer science as well as physics. Ultimately I would like to go to graduate school, but for astronomy/astrophysics instead of computer graphics like originally intended. Is it at all possible to combine both fields(astrophysics/astronomy and computer graphics) into a career? If I had to choose one I'd go with physics, but I'd love to combine them both

    Thanks! I'll definitely do this.

    Are Fundamentals of Physics by H&R fine as well? the 5th edition of H&R is extremely hard to find for a reasonable price. Also what do you mean by calculus two?
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2016
  11. Jan 3, 2016 #10
    Have you studied Series(Convergence&Divergence, PowerSeries), Integrals(Trig Substitution, Polar Coordinates) in you course? if so, you have studied Calculus 2 already :)
  12. Jan 3, 2016 #11
    Ah, so that's what it means. I definitely havent done those :p

    So far Im narrowing down my list to:

    Anton - New Horizons 6th edition combined
    Thomas - Calculus With Analytic Geometry 9th edition
    Larson - Calculus With Analytic Geometry 7th edition

    Halliday - 5th edition
    Halliday - Fundamentals of Physics 8th edition

    All three of the calculus book are supposedly very good for self study, but I've heard that Anton and Thomas arent rigorous enough and dont spend enough time on the theory. For Physics, how does Halliday, Resnick, Kane compare to Halliday, Resnick? It's a lot easier to find good prices for Fundamentals of Physics vs any HRK textbooks

    Also, is it recommended that I get a graphing calculator or is it not necessary?
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2016
  13. Jan 3, 2016 #12
    To be frank, no. It's a very useful and powerful ability to not have to rely on a calculator to do intermediate-level mental math. When it comes to looking at graphs and messing around with ideas like maybe Newton's Method, Linear Approximation, and stuff like that it could be handy but it's not a must. If you want it solely for graphing, it's a lot easier to just look at WolframAlpha than waste time trying to properly look at a graph you had to enter into the calculator itself since it can be tedious sometimes.
  14. Jan 3, 2016 #13


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    Why the 6th edition of Anton? The 5th edition is cheaper.

    Anton is plenty rigorous enough for your self study. You can move on to another text like Tom's book if you want after you're done.

    No point rushing to find the most rigorous texts right away, or you could always start with, ya know, Goldstein for your intro mechanics and Rudin for calculus.

    That's sarcasm, by the way.

    We used fundamental of physics for my intro series, if it's cheaper than just the Physics title, go for it. The problems aren't as good as the ones from physics, and they don't sell individual volumes. No point going through the complete text after you've been exposed to physics. It would be better to follow the outline I posted above. Learn how to solve physical problems, some concepts from mechanics, see if you even like physics, then switch to K&K.

    Go ahead and get a graphing calculator, you can use it for many things.

    You've never taken a physics course, but you love it enough to pick it over something you've been trained to do?

    I'll never understand that.

    I'm also a bit confused by the above, so you're now going to have two bachelor's, and plan to go back for a third?

    Why didn't your computer programming diploma include basic math, linear algebra and intro physics already?
  15. Jan 3, 2016 #14
    Ah, I'll try to explain it a little more clearly. I only have one degree, which is a bachelors in liberal arts and I'm soon going to get my programming diploma. Is it possible to go straight into a graduate program with no related undergrad degree? I always assumed it wasn't possible. I saw the stickied post dealing with the same question, but the last post was 2 months ago, so I'm unsure if it's too old to post there

    The programming diploma includes almost no math. The only math I learned was some linear algebra because of a game engine course I took.

    Since making the actual decision to switch to physics is a long ways away, I figure I have a lot of time beforehand to see if I like it or not. Considering I have to learn some physics if I want to go into computer graphics regardless, I feel I'd be able to make a sound decision on whether I want to specialize in it or not by the time my co-op term ends since that would be a years worth of self study.

    I picked the 6th edition simply because I cant find any 5th edition new horizon texts on Amazon. The 6th Edition combined one I found was available for 19 bucks.
  16. Jan 3, 2016 #15


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    Okay, I see what you're saying now. Is it possible to go to grad school in physics with a bachelor's in an unrelated field, yes, but like the thread you mentioned states it is by far not the easiest route.

    If you want to go to grad school for physics, going back and getting a bachelor's in it is the best way forward.

    That was my mistake, I forgot which edition I was talking about, it is the 6th:

    Used for a buck.
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