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Self Taught Physics

  1. Jul 1, 2008 #1
    I am a sophomore in high school and became interested in physics, particularly quantum mechanics, about a year ago. However, I will not be able to take a physics or calculus course in school until I am a junior. I have been trying to learn physics by myself, but without a background in calculus have had to settle for learning mostly concepts as opposed to formulas.

    Mainly I've been trying to accomplish this by reading related books and internet sites, but without a clear-cut plan to follow or any way of ascertaining the legitimacy of these sources, I am lost. Any advice, references, or sites you could offer would be greatly appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 1, 2008 #2
    Don't worry, I'm in the same boat as you ;)
    To start me off on Quantum Theory I began with the somewhat patronising book of "Introducing Quantum Theory" by J.P. McEvoy and Oscar Zarate as well as the Feynman lectures - mostly "Six easy pieces" and "Six harder pieces." They both give nice tasters of what is to come and furthered my interesting in Physics. They are also very straight forward and explain things in layman's terms.

    There is also a brilliant set of lectures given by Hans Bethe at this link:
    That's really good.

    It would also be a good idea to get a good feel for Special and General Relativity as along with Quantum Mechanics they make up our big tested theories. I didn't really read a great deal of books or anything on this, just visited sites and watched maybe a few lectures, can't get any links for you there I'm afraid though.

    For an idea of string theory the first thing I watched was "Elegant Universe" which is extremely simple. Then "The Trouble With Physics" by Lee Smolin was extremely useful. I also went to a lecture by Michael Greene at the Institue of Physics here in london which was good.

    I am currenlty reading up on Quantum Gravity theories like LQG but to be honest have found nothing of any real worth to help me with it.

    I do feel your pain though am still too young to be learning calculus or many of the mathematic concepts needed to properly understand all areas of modern physics.

    Hope this helped :)
  4. Jul 1, 2008 #3
    Whoa! Slow down. You are trying to run a marathon without ever having completed the mile. The best thing you can possibly do for yourself right now is master your basic mathematics and read this thread:

  5. Jul 1, 2008 #4
    Physics is math heavy, try learning calculus before physics. Stewart's calculus would probably do it for basic mechanics and E&M (E&M should be learned before you start even looking at QM). Also you'd probably want to at least learn some elementary differential equations.

    Basically if you want any quantitative knowledge there is a lot to be learned prior. Te best you could do right now is either start teaching yourself calculus, or read overviews of the subject.
  6. Jul 2, 2008 #5
    If you care that much the only way you can proceed is to get a textbook and teach yourself calculus. (This is apparenly how Feynman got started age 14- not a bad start, although perhaps not for everyone....:wink:)
    It really is impossible to proceed beyond the level of popsci books without maths. There's enough popsci books to keep you going for a long time, of course. The trouble is that once you've read your bog-standard "QM is wierd", plus Brian Greene, plus maybe some relativity text, everything subsequently starts to sound the same. I was in a sense lucky with my timing- as I reached this stage I started university :biggrin:
    So if you want a popsci reading list:
    QED: the strange theory of light and matter -Richard Feynman
    The Elegant Universe, The Fabric of the Cosmos -Brian Greene. If you only get one get the Fabric of the Cosmos; it's more wide-ranging and generally considered to be the better book. The Elegant Universe is exceptionally detailed for a popsci books about string theory though; possibly because Brian Greene actually resarches it professionally...
    Relativity- Einstein.
    Einstein's universe- Nigel Calder.
    If you want to start learning for real:
    has free lecture notes for everything. Start with calculus!
    http://www.phys.uu.nl/~thooft/theorist.html is quite a useful little resource too.
    If you really want to start doing physics (rather than maths) as soon as possible, you could look for the equivalent of an English A-level maths textbook first of all. That would basically teach you to "do the sums" in the least possible time so you could make a start, wheras a university level course would begin with a theoretical and rigorous grounding in basic limits before using them to actually explain how calculus works properly.
  7. Jul 2, 2008 #6
    Wow, thanks a lot for the help, guys. I'll definitely start working through some of this. Thanks, I really appreciate it!
  8. Jul 2, 2008 #7


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    Well, you could use sparknotes.com too in calculus and physics (no QM). That is what I am doing to learn physics by myself. It is not the best site, but it does teach the fundamental and there are a few exercises.
  9. Jul 2, 2008 #8
    I am in high school also. I don't know anything about physics, But I don't see how you can study QM or much physics at all without any calculus. I suggest you study calculus and work hard on the maths. I like to see people like you with this type of enthusiasm, so get to work.
  10. Jul 2, 2008 #9
    Get an intro level text book that covers a variety of subjects. My school had their own text books for intro level courses, but a book we used to supplement Thermodynamics was this:


    It doesn't have much thermo in it, but what it does have is basically everything else and almost no calculus. A waste of money for me, but it's right up your alley.
  11. Jul 5, 2008 #10
    Hmm...you could use college physics, by young and geller. No calculus required. It's a "noncalc" version of University Physics by young and freedman
  12. Jul 5, 2008 #11
    I agree with muppet. Teach yourself calculus in your spare time this summer. The two core ideas of calculus is applying "derivatives" and "integrals" to solve problems, yet the book is large because there are many different methods and related ideas. You may be able to test out of the course later in high school, if you work hard enough.

    I would say that there probably are many good calculus books available for self-study. I own "Calculus with Analytic Geometry, Sixth Edition" by Larson (old edition) and "Calculus - Concepts and Contexts, Third Edition" by Steward and both are clear (in my opinion) in their description of the content. You can probably can an old edition for a couple bucks.
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2008
  13. Jul 5, 2008 #12
  14. Jul 5, 2008 #13


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    hi ,there are many video tutorials on the internet.
    You can find the open cource in MIT or berkeley.
  15. Oct 15, 2011 #14
    if you are serious about physics, you should acquire a reasonable proficiency in mathematics, especially calculus. I'd recommend Thomas Calculus (Third Ed.).

    Young's university calculus is a good introductory book.


    Mechanics: Goldstein Classical Mechanics (2nd edition or less), then Lanczos' Variational Principles.

    Thermodynamics: Zemansky Thermodynamics (4th ed) and Howard Reiss' Methods of Thermodynamics

    Statistical mechanics: Hill's introductory book

    Electrodynamics: Arthur Kip's electricity and magnetism.

    Quantum Mechanics: Resnick and Eisberg's Quantum mechanics of molecules, particles, etc.

    Relativity: Hartle's relativity

    Beware, many textbooks in their later iterations are getting worse pedagogically. Try reading the earlier editions. For example. Goldstein's classical mechanics (<2nd Ed.)

    Science is best assimilated in its nascent state. After this intermediate stage, try reading classics such as the Landau's series.
  16. Oct 15, 2011 #15


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