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Theoretical physics and math

  1. Jul 20, 2005 #1
    For all you theoretical physicists out there.

    I have got all the undergraduate math stuff down (group theory, point set topology, PDEs, introduction to mathematical analysis, linear algebra, classical differential geometry etc.), but now going further in my physics education I am approaching QFT and other highly mathematical fields, and it feels just so overwhelming having to learn all that manifold theory, diff. forms, algebraic topology, Lie theory, functionalanalysis. I really like math and all but the subjects seems so huge and abstract. It feels like I am never getting to the physics.

    So I was wondering, do I really have to plough through all those huge graduate level books before I go into the (theoretical) physics? Or is it possible to pick up math while studying the physics?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 20, 2005 #2
    I'm not a physicist, so I don't whether my experience will benifit you, but I learned the mathematical apparatus parallel with physics. That is, when some mathematics which I didn't know appeared in a physics text that I was reading, I would pause in order to learn the mathematics.
  4. Jul 20, 2005 #3
    It would be interesting to compare the programs of different european and extracomunitarian universities to solve the puzzle you are submitting (And there's already a thread somewhere about it).

    For example, in Italy, you finally emerge from the "mare magnum" of pure and abstract Maths more or less in the second year, when you are at least 20-21 years old (btw, we attend school in Winter, isn't Summer the school period for northern countries?).

    Moreover, an act has (I'm afraid) lately been passed, which divides university careers into two periods: "three-year degree" and "specialized degree" (3+2). And the courses last a semester.
    For the first, the program is common (of course, with some personal choices and changes).
    For the second, there is a lot of possibilty, among which you can choose "Theoretical Physics".

    What about you?

    P.S. Anyway, in the first two years you study Maths along with Pysics, is this different for you?
  5. Jul 20, 2005 #4
    What? Unless your definitions of "winter" and "summer" are significantly different than mine, this would mean that your entire school "year" would be 3 to 4 months at most. (And this is being very liberal in what counts as "summer" ;) ).

    The fall term in Sweden lasts from the end of August/beginning of September to early January, and the spring term from early January to sometime in May/June. (Usually. Local deviations may occur).
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2005
  6. Jul 20, 2005 #5
    Here is everything you need to know if you wanna become a theoretical physicist :
    The author is Nobel laureate Gerardus t'Hooft


  7. Jul 20, 2005 #6
    ah, cool link, marlon. thanks.
  8. Jul 20, 2005 #7
    Ok my definitions are a little conventional, I meant "Winter"=Autumn+Winter+Spring and thus "Summer" logically follows.

    Anyway that is my situation: Oct-Jan: lectures, Feb: exams, Mar-Jun: lectures, Jun-Jul: exams, Sept: exams.
  9. Jul 21, 2005 #8

    Meir Achuz

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    "So I was wondering, do I really have to plough through all those huge graduate level books before I go into the (theoretical) physics? Or is it possible to pick up math while studying the physics?"

    I recommend you learn the rest of your math in good physics graduate courses and seminars.
  10. Jul 21, 2005 #9
    A very good friend of mine who is, coincidentally, one of the best undergraduate physics theorists I have ever seen or heard of commented quite simply

    "If you already know all the math, the rest is just physics."

    I think it would be in your benefit to know most of the math before you take a class on physics, so you can focus on the physics and not get hung up on the mathematical details.
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