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Want to self-study Physics

  1. Jul 15, 2007 #1
    I'm currently an undergraduate with major in Mathematics. Since I'm quite interested in Physics, I'd like to self-learn some topics in Physics, in particular Classical Mechanics and Relativity. What books do you recommend for a beginner in these topics? Do my study in Mathematics helps? And finally what sort of Mathematics do I need to be familiar with in order to understand better the Physics?

    Thanks for answering!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 15, 2007 #2
    What level of math are you at? What math courses have you taken? Have you ever taken a physics class? If so, what level?
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2007
  4. Jul 15, 2007 #3
    I'm promoting to Year 2 under a 3-year undergraduate curriculum. The math courses I've taken includes Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algebra, a first course in Mathematical Analysis and elementary Probability Theory. For Physics, I haven't taken any Physics course in university, and my Physics level should be roughly around A-Level.
  5. Jul 15, 2007 #4
    Your calculus background seems like it might be good enough for classical mechanics, though you do need to know how to deal with ordinary differential equations.
    As for relativity, you need to learn differential geometry and multilinear algebra.
    Mathematics definitely helps with physics-- you can't go too far without a good math background. :)
    As for books, I'm extremely cheap and the only classical mechanics book I've read/am reading through is The Variational Principles of Mechanics by Cornelius Lanczos, which is a really good (and cheap) book, though you have to be comfortable with multivariable calculus, differential equations and linear algebra. It's very easy to follow; after every section there's a summary of all the main points which were discussed. Very good idea for a physics book, if you ask me.
    As for relativity, I'm in your boat; I hear Carroll's book is good though. (You can find the lecture notes that evolved into the textbook http://pancake.uchicago.edu/~carroll/notes/)
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2017
  6. Jul 15, 2007 #5


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    By relativity, I presume the OP means special relativity, which is an involved enough subject in itself. This is accessible with only algebra.
    I would not advise jumping into sean carroll's general relativity text without first studying special relativity. His book only has a brief section on SR which is meant as a recap.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2017
  7. Jul 15, 2007 #6


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    Staff: Mentor

    I don't know what kind of physics course in the USA an A-levels course in your country corresponds to, so I can't make specific recommendations. Can you find out what textbook your university uses for a first course in classical mechanics for a person with your background, and perhaps use that book?
  8. Jul 15, 2007 #7
    instead of self studying why not just double in physics or at least get a minor in physics? i think its really important to at least take the classical physics 1, 2 and maybe modern physics course sequence. from there you can decide to move further and take electromagnetism, optics, quantum, GR and what not.

    self study really isn't such a good idea in my opinion. it's better to learn it, interact with other students, have homeworks graded, be in a very structured environment where you can't really slack off like if you were to self study.
  9. Jul 15, 2007 #8
    halliday, resnick, and krane vol. 1
  10. Jul 15, 2007 #9
    I study maths at the same time than physics and it is (maths) sooooo useful.
  11. Jul 15, 2007 #10
    I've once considered minoring in physics. However, the curriculum of physics minor in my university were so designed that it's quite difficult to take their elementary courses without time clash with my major courses. :cry:
    I know for physics it's better to take courses, but I just wonder if self-study could allow one to obtain some real physics knowledge.
  12. Jul 15, 2007 #11
    hi everybody .
    i am also an undergrad student doing basic level of physics and math..i.e. ( calculus II and calculus based physics I) right now m taking GE classes(community college) for physics and math major. my major field of interests are cosmology, relativity (esp. gravity) and math( i took calc II last semester and found convergent divergent series pretty interesting,i was amazed when i study the properties of F(x)=1/x^2,, prime number is another topic of interest)
    My future goal is to receive PhD and want to build a research career, for that i want to be active from now. on what kind of activities can i involve my self like some kind of college research(which suits me) in math or physics.
    can u list some books related to gravity cosmology, quantum mechanism, number theory, series that are best for my level..
    and what steps can i take for progress
    thankx :smile:
  13. Jul 15, 2007 #12
    Wow... that's a coincidence-- I can't take any first or second year physics classes either because they clash with all of my math classes.
    What university do you go to?
  14. Jul 16, 2007 #13

    well, that's a mouthful!

    i've heard that it's QUITE difficult to do mathematical research as an undergraduate. there are math REU's available (assuming you go to school in america?), so that's an option. research in physics tends to be easier to find for undergraduates. the process of finding a research position is as simple as finding a few professors whose work seems interesting to you and asking them if they have a spot for you.

    i'm not sure what "your level" is for physics, so i can't really comment on the textbooks.
  15. Jul 16, 2007 #14
    Don't self study physics. Take classes. Do assignments. Stress over exams. That's the best way to learn physics.
  16. Jul 16, 2007 #15
    yeah, it definitely takes some amount of pressure to force yourself to do the frustratingly difficult problems. plus, if you're taking a class, you can ask for help from a professor.
  17. Jul 16, 2007 #16
    A level's explore calculus,complex numbers,vectors, matrix transformations,Sigma notation, probability that sort of stuff, the stuff you see commonly in Calculus and beyond here. Someone with an A' level in maths pure and applied would be well prepared to take on the maths in degree level physics. They are taken ages normally between 16-18 to provide a bridge between the much simpler maths of GCSE's and the complex maths of degrees.

    A level physics is the same, although the maths is generally easier than the pure and applied maths course. Those who had done both would be easilly capable of taking on topics at degree level, obviously with tuition though.

    I'm sure special relativity and many topics of classical mechanics could be mastered with people with A'(Advanced) levels in maths and physics.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2007
  18. Jul 16, 2007 #17
    oddly enough, no one has mentioned any books yet... so I will

    Kenleung, I think "Feynman's Lectures on Physics" are just incredible, and you'll understand the math so they will be even more incredible for you, they are a classic... his explanation of things is excellent, and he always adds in mathematical proofs when he can (as long as they aren't too long)

    eminent, read Brian Greene's "Fabric of the Cosmos" there is no math but I guarantee you will be highly entertained, he tries to understand the arrow of time and what deep knowledge we have gained about reality through physics (GR, Quantum Mechanics), he discusses inflationary cosmology incredibly.. he even goes into stuff like Quantum Teleportation, string theory, and time travel near the end.. the book is just incredibly interesting through out, and I didn't even like cosmology when I first read it. But... it's no textbook, if thats what you want.
  19. Jul 16, 2007 #18
    Here are three reasons why enrolled in a class is good

    1. Interact with other students and know how you compare with them. That is often important so that you don't get false impressions later on about what 'level' you are at were you to study alone.

    2. You get to do an exam and past exam papers which increases your understanding substantially because you are learning the material a second time but doing different problems. Most textbooks don't have an exam on the whole book.

    3. You get to see what level the professor (i.e. his level of understanding and ability) is at as a result of listening and interacting with him/her via lectures and questioning. This is good as it gives you something to aim for.
  20. Jul 16, 2007 #19
    I go to the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
  21. Jul 16, 2007 #20
    I agree that taking courses are the best choice in learning Physics. So perhaps I'll see if I can squeeze some credits and time to take some courses! Originally I'm thinking of minoring in Computer Science, which I'm also interested in.

    I understand it's hard to self-learn physics. Is it impossible to get a very basic understanding through self-study? I believe Math and Physics are quite closely related, so I wanna learn some physics to satisfy my curiosity!
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2007
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