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Thinking of taking first year university physics, any advice?

  1. Nov 14, 2013 #1
    I'm thinking of taking it because of the simple reason that I'm really interested in it (I'm replacing it with another course but I'm not going to major in it), its description mentions interesting topics like relativity, time travel, quantum entanglement (sounds interesting yet very scary lol), etc.
    My question is what is first year physics like? is all just calculations and memorizing equations/forces? or does it actually make you think about different theories/ideas and it revolves more about knowledge than calculations? because that's what I hope it is. Any advice would be appreciated guys, thank you.
    p.s I go to university of Toronto (don't know if it matters)
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 14, 2013 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    The traditional first-year physics course for physics and engineering majors consists mainly of classical mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity/magnetism, optics, and maybe a little bit of relativity and quantum physics at the end. This is spread out over two semesters. It's very heavy on problem-solving.

    Your course does not sound like that at all. I suggest you find whoever is going to teach the course, or someone who has taught it, or a student who has taken it, and ask him/her questions about it. Maybe someone from U of T will see this and recognize the course you're asking about.
  4. Nov 14, 2013 #3
    The course code is PHY100H5 if it helps. It is only 1 semester (since there's H in the code, and not Y which would stand for year/full year course). It also says that it is a course for those who are not trained in physics (requires no previous knowledge of physics, but I have some knowledge already) and mathematics (it also says "in a non-intimidating way" which is always good :approve:). The description mentions other things such as lasers, GPS, flat-screen TVS, wireless communications, etc. So I think its going to be very knowledge based or very general with actually little emphasis on physics (considering it is a physics course)
  5. Nov 14, 2013 #4
    For this particular course, I highly doubt it will involve any calculus (at most elementary algebra) since it isn't actually part of the physics major stream. So, I believe the course will definitely be more on the qualitative side (more emphasis on obtaining a general feel for the ideas; similar to the likes of popular science novels) than on actual computation (but there will still me some).
  6. Nov 14, 2013 #5
    Man I hope you're right. Because I love physics and want to learn more about it but I'm scared of it at the same time (because of the difficulty obviously) lol
  7. Nov 17, 2013 #6
    I doubt you will be doing any calculations, as it's a course geared mainly towards social science and humanities majors. The standard first year physics courses are 131/132 (for non-physics specialists) and 151/152 (for physics specialist). I took 131 and switched to 152 in the second semester, and there was never any entanglement or quantum theory covered at all let alone entanglement or time travel. Some GR and special relativity were covered, but that was the most when it comes to anything beyond classical physics.

    If you're not going to major in physics, then it sounds like the right course for you.
  8. Nov 17, 2013 #7
    Actually it turns out I can't take it now because its a full year course and the first semester is already almost over :(
    But maybe I'll take it next year
  9. Nov 21, 2013 #8
    PHY100H is a bird course (at least if you know any physics at all). I never took it but two of my friends (studying life science) took it and got an easy 4.0. As stated by others, it talks about physics and introduces you to physics in a qualitative way. As far as I can remember, the marks consist of some quizes, couple of writing assignments (like a book report) and attendance to tutorials, but I'm not sure if there is an exam.
  10. Nov 26, 2013 #9
    I doubt you will get much benefit from this course, it would be just like reading the latest Brian Greene book. OK that's fun, but not very demanding. If you have the necessary background to do the harder physics course, do that! That will stretch you by forcing you do some hard problem solving. Learning to solve a tough problem in mechanics will be of far more benefit to you than dozing through a lecture on time travel that any bright eight year old could understand. Even if you flunk the hard course then you will learn something about yourself that the easier course would not reveal.

    The hard course will also look a lot better on your CV (even if you do a life science!) If a future employer sees that you chose to do the tough physics course, rather than the easy one, don't you think he's likely to be impressed? I would be.

    University should be about stretching yourself, not taking easy options. Only then will grow stronger, only then will you have a truly interesting life.
  11. Nov 26, 2013 #10
    Actually, I think you will learn more from those books. Anyway, I agree with almost everything mal4mac said. However, I don't think you should risk taking a harder course if you think you won't do well because your GPA matters after all. You can however choose to use CR/NCR so that it doesn't affect the GPA.
  12. Nov 27, 2013 #11
    How do you know you will not do well unless you try?

    I took a combined degree and could have taken 'sociology' and 'art history' instead of 'applied maths I' and 'applied maths II'? I'd had some problems with certain math courses, but I was determined to try and fix things, and did (by applied maths II, at least!) Why did I walk into physics jobs later on? Not sure, but I think taking 'applied maths I' and 'applied maths II' helped.

    The GPA is not the be all and end all, what you actually did to get the GPA is the deal breaker.

    Just think about it! Imagine I'm a physics professor sat with two application CV's for a numerical modelling post, both with same scores for physics & computing core. But one guy got 90% for art history options, the other 70% for AM I & II. Who do I take? AM I & II - it's a no brainer. The same argument goes for "guy with bird physics" at 90% or "guy with hard physics" at 70%.
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