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Theoretical/mathematical physics at Cambridge

  1. Feb 13, 2015 #1
    Dear all,
    I really want to join Cambridge university for my undergraduate course. In the long term, I want to go into hardcore research in theoretical physics, esp. general relativity. I am in a fix as to which course to choose for my undergraduate course. I am an Indian citizen, so don't know much about the course description. I checked the Natural Sciences section, but it asks you to take 3 subjects along with mathematics. I feel this will destroy the mathematical rigor I like, as I want to study from a more mathematical perspective. However, in the mathematics tripos, I am not sure if I will get the physics I need. So what should I choose to become a theoretical physicist?

    In short, will the mathematics undergraduate course in Cambridge cover topics such as general relativity and quantum mechanics? Or should I opt for Natural Sciences?(NOTE: I HATE anything other than math and physics). If yes, what choice should I make in Natural Sciences?Or, if mathematics offers all the subjects required to be a theoretical physicist, should I go for pure/ applied math or math with physics in the first year? Also, I would like to say that I only like theoretical stuff; I hate experimental physics. And I don't want to cut down the math(which I fear will be the case in natural sciences). So, Will the mathematics course offer the topics a theoretical physicist needs? So, basically my problem is will natural science be better or mathematics be better to become a theoretical physicist?
    Thanks!
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 13, 2015 #2
    Cambridge knows good researchers are interested in all subjects of science, biology, chemistry and physics. Nature does not know where we make one subject stop and the other begin. That is why they do this.
     
  4. Feb 13, 2015 #3

    Intrastellar

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    And the reason Oxford does not do this is ?
    @cr7einstein : Oxford offers a degree of physics only, and I also heard that Cambridge does something as mathematics with theoretical physics, where you take physics course as well.
     
  5. Feb 13, 2015 #4

    IGU

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    It sounds to me like the Maths Tripos at Cambridge would suit you. Take a look at the courses here: http://www.maths.cam.ac.uk/lecturelists/PartIAWeb.pdf [Broken], http://www.maths.cam.ac.uk/lecturelists/PartIBWeb.pdf [Broken], http://www.maths.cam.ac.uk/lecturelists/PartIIWeb.pdf [Broken]. You'll notice not much choice the first year; in the second year there are some choices (you would probably lean toward applied maths and physics), and in the third year you can pretty much do all physics so long as you've learned the math for it.

    And if you do the fourth year you can do all sorts of interesting things. My kid just started doing maths at Cambridge (Trinity College) this past October and they've been okay with him doing a variety of third and fourth year courses in addition to his first year stuff. He's all about maths rather than physics, so I don't know whether things would be the same for you. Also, things vary by college somewhat.

    If you care about mathematical rigor you will prefer this to doing the NatSci or Physics courses. They would lead you much more down the path of learning the tools and ignoring the proofs.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  6. Feb 14, 2015 #5
    @IGU: Thanks for the links. So essentially, mathematics tripos is the better choice for theoretical physics...my only concern is that the the physics doesn't get lost, because as much as I enjoy mathematical rigor, I want to be a theoretical PHYSICIST, so can't ignore physics either. In the lecture list, however, courses like like "dynamics and relativity" and "general relativity" seem to be good enough. I earlier assumed that if I take mathematics, then GR (my field of interest) will be included in differential geometry, but a separate lecture series for it seems pretty good. So I can expect it to be taught in more detail rather than just an application of differential geometry, right?
    Also, there are some pretty interesting non-examinable courses (such as concepts of theoretical physics) too...will they be detailed, or just a random breeze-through kind of thing?
    And do I have to choose between part IA and part IB, or are both of them going to be taught? Because I heard that there is some sort of choice between applied math and math with physics in the first year..so does this have anything to with it? Also, which one would be better for me-pure&applied or math with physics, given I want to go into theoretical physics(NOTE: I have no intention of switching over to NatSci in the second year)..can I take both pure and applied as well as math with physics?
    Anyways, thanks!
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2015
  7. Feb 14, 2015 #6

    Intrastellar

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    Part IA and part IB represent the first and second year respectively. I do not know the answer to the rest of your questions, continue browsing the Cambridge website and look up other links on google.
     
  8. Feb 14, 2015 #7

    IGU

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    As you pursue this further you'll have lots of very detailed questions. These can best be answered (or are already answered) on the forums at The Student Room. You had best sign up there and look around. For the simple factual answers, there is much to read on the Cambridge web site itself.

    My best advice is to keep in mind that there is not enough time in your life to learn both rigorous mathematics and physics. Pure mathematicians tend to ignore reality and concentrate on the abstract, while physicists tend toward using whatever works and not worrying about rigorous proofs of the mathematics they use. You'll find it very time-consuming to try to keep your feet in both camps, and adherents of one or the other approach will be impatient with you.

    You might enjoy Ordinary Differential Equations by V.I. Arnold when you are ready for it, or really anything else by Arnol'd. Look for books by mathematicians who believe that all important mathematics is inspired by physics.
     
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