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What are the basics of physics?

  1. Sep 15, 2008 #1
    I'm currently a high school student and I'm looking forward to doing the physics olympiad and physics bowl and perhaps becoming a physicist myself. One problem I have is whenever I attempt some problems I have no idea what to do because I haven't had enough physics exposure. What do I need to know so I can be prepared to solve all the basic problems and use the skills I gain through those to work on higher level problems?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 15, 2008 #2
    Are you in a physics course now? If not, you will need to self-study if you do not want to wait until you take a formal course.

    Traditionally, physics study starts with kinematics (motion) and basic mechanics (Newton's laws, impulse/momentum, work/energy) and gravity/projectiles. Then basic waves (physical waves and electromagnetism). Usually thermodynamics (heat) gets tossed in there somewhere, and leftover time gets used for extension of the already covered topics, or a 'survey' of more advanced and popular topics ("modern physics").
  4. Sep 15, 2008 #3
    conservation laws
    'thinking physics' by Lewis Carrol Epstein
    flux lines
  5. Sep 15, 2008 #4
    If you've got a good background in calculus then the Feynman Lectures are are good place to start. Even just skimming through the individual volumes reveals a lot of interesting information.
  6. Sep 19, 2008 #5
    1) A body will remain in a constant state of motion unless acted upon by a force.
    2) The effect of a force is to change a body's momentum with respect to time.
    3) On a pair of interacting bodies, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

    It sounds so trivial and nitpicking sometimes (I definitely thought so when I was a freshman), but being able to master these principles will help you set up and subsequently solve so many problems. These principles go so far as to help explain so many physical phenomena you'll encounter; all you have to do is remember to invoke them.
  7. Sep 20, 2008 #6
    Of course the convention is to be learn basic maths first of all, which I hope you already have. Calculus is required for Physics, so you should be familiar with at least elementary Calculus especially Differentiation and Integration. After that start from Classical/Newtonian Mechanics (Which includes Kinametics mostly) after having learned all about necessary measurement systems. After that, you move on to Optics and Electromegnatism etc.etc.

    Here's an excellent article with the name "How To Become A Good Phycist", by former Nobel Laureate Gerard 't Hooft. The online resources there may be a bit advanced for the begineers, (You can get some useful text books) but the pattern remains the same:


    Important thing is that you master the concepts of one part and solve as many problems related to it as possible before moving on to further.

    Best of luck!
  8. Sep 20, 2008 #7
    Wow thanks for the great replies here. I've already started on kinematics (I think I'm almost done but is anyone ever really "done"?) and from what you guys are saying I need to learn calculus. I'm only in precalculus at school and next year I'll be in AP Calculus BC.
  9. Sep 20, 2008 #8
    I'd say the basics of physics is being sufficiently enamoured with mathematical models of the physical universe such that you are willing to wrangle, grapple, and be possessed by the idea of solving wonderfully complicated problems. You can have all the textbook knowledge you want (which is good...don't get me wrong), but determination and motivation and optimism, even in the midst of a hard problem, will get you very far : )
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