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Courses What are the challenging undergrad physics courses?

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Are there any courses in the standard undergrad physics curriculum that tend to be more challenging than others?
 

kuruman

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I would say E&M and Quantum Mechanics.
 
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I think methametical methods for physics is terrifying.
 

kuruman

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I think methametical methods for physics is terrifying.
Mathematical Methods can be daunting but it is not part of the standard undergrad physics curriculum. The standard courses (required, at least one course in each at the intermediate level, by all institutions offering a physics major) are Classical Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Quantum Mechanics and Thermodynamics & Statistical Mechanics.
 

jasonRF

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I expect the answer depends on the particular university, and perhaps even on which professors you happen get for each class at that university. If there is a particular school you are attending, you should ask your fellow students or your advisor if you want reliable information.
 
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At my university more than 40 years ago, it was Classical Electrodynamics I. As a second semester sophomore, we used Waves, (Berkeley Series). The first sentence in the book begins, "the world is full of things that move".

The next semester, first semester junior year, our professor chose Panofsky and Phillips, as the undergraduate electrodynamics textbook. Imagine when I had read (on the first page), "In general, an "n-th rank tensor field" requires the specification of d to the nth components, where d is the dimensionality of the space in which the field is defined"

Only 9 months went by, between the world is full of things that move, and the description of a tensor field in d dimensions. Did I wake up in the 25th century like Buck Rogers? What just happened, and what is the upside down triangle on page 2. Reading on, it gets even worse.

Now it is also interesting in that in our class for quantum, we used Messiah, Quantum Mechanics. This is a pretty difficult book for a first exposure to undergrad quantum. The next year in the class behind me, they used Landau and Lif Volume III. This is even more tough than Messiah for undergrad students.

I think in this day of Griffith textbooks for undergrad, the undergrads are less likely to have these trials.
I tend to think the move from introductory electrodynamics to junior level electrodynamics is a bit more of a transition than the first quantum mechanics course. I do think quantum 2 is typically harder than quantum 1, but I would have to go with electrodynamics as harder.

Stat mech wasn't too bad as long as the professor does not use Kittel. Kittel is not particularly hard but it does not tie in with what the student has been taught in Chemistry, very well. Kittel is just shock treatment.
 

StatGuy2000

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At my university more than 40 years ago, it was Classical Electrodynamics I. As a second semester sophomore, we used Waves, (Berkeley Series). The first sentence in the book begins, "the world is full of things that move".

The next semester, first semester junior year, our professor chose Panofsky and Phillips, as the undergraduate electrodynamics textbook. Imagine when I had read (on the first page), "In general, an "n-th rank tensor field" requires the specification of d to the nth components, where d is the dimensionality of the space in which the field is defined"

Only 9 months went by, between the world is full of things that move, and the description of a tensor field in d dimensions. Did I wake up in the 25th century like Buck Rogers? What just happened, and what is the upside down triangle on page 2. Reading on, it gets even worse.

Now it is also interesting in that in our class for quantum, we used Messiah, Quantum Mechanics. This is a pretty difficult book for a first exposure to undergrad quantum. The next year in the class behind me, they used Landau and Lif Volume III. This is even more tough than Messiah for undergrad students.

I think in this day of Griffith textbooks for undergrad, the undergrads are less likely to have these trials.
I tend to think the move from introductory electrodynamics to junior level electrodynamics is a bit more of a transition than the first quantum mechanics course. I do think quantum 2 is typically harder than quantum 1, but I would have to go with electrodynamics as harder.

Stat mech wasn't too bad as long as the professor does not use Kittel. Kittel is not particularly hard but it does not tie in with what the student has been taught in Chemistry, very well. Kittel is just shock treatment.
From that first sentence of the Panofsky and Phillips book, the assumption made for the expected audience would be someone who have taken a second year analysis and first year advanced linear algebra course (given the discussion of tensors and dimensions).

Which makes me think -- was that book challenging because they were assuming a mathematical understanding and maturity that many physics undergraduate students do not have?

Same question for statistical mechanics for Kittel.
 

kuruman

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Which makes me think -- was that book challenging because they were assuming a mathematical understanding and maturity that many physics undergraduate students do not have?

Same question for statistical mechanics for Kittel.
A course is "difficult" when the impedances between the students and the course material are
mismatched. It is the job of the course instructor to match impedances as best as possible by selecting the instructional methods and textbook that are appropriate to his/her student clientele.
 
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I was lucky enough to have good quality instructors who could match impedances between textbooks well. I should also say, there seemed to be fewer undergraduate approaches to this material in the textbooks available during the 1970's. My undergraduate class actually resorted to the graduate textbook Jackson, because they felt Panofsky and Phillips was unapproachable. Marion, Classical Electromagnetic Radiation, was used during the second semester, and we felt this was more readable.
The next year they used Lorrain and Corson. I (relearned) much of my first semester from this one.

My linear algebra background was quite good, but n-th rank n > 2 tensor field in d- dimensions was not discussed. One semester isn't time enough to reach these topics in most linear algebra textbooks.

Getting back to the main topic. It is clear that the difficulty of the undergraduate course will be in some measure related to the specific instructor and approach the instructor might use for his/her class, and the background of the specific students.
 
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Are there any courses in the standard undergrad physics curriculum that tend to be more challenging than others?
That depends on the professor to be honest, mechanics was harder than my E&M and quantum classes because of the professor (he taught Jackson for 10 years before before being asked to teach undergrad mechancis so he brought that with him, lol).
 

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