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What MATH should I know for grad school physics?

  1. Jul 20, 2009 #1
    I've taken all the usual undergrad math courses needed for undergrad physics: calc, diff eq, linear algebra, etc. However, when I read some of the discussions on this board, or when I look at more advanced books, I'm completely lost by the math!

    What math do I need to understand???

    I hear references to group theory, for example. And then there are tensors and such for GR (which I'm just now starting to understand a bit). But none of these maths were offered at my undergrad institution for undergrad students.

    So, what math do I need to know? Or what are good courses to take so I can understand grad-level physics (say, particle physics, QFT, grad-level quantum) and GR?

    Thanks, guys.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 20, 2009 #2
    Well unless you're doing particle physics or QFT you won't learn those and unless you're doing GR you won't learn GR. In general no grad student studies all areas. So I'd say it entirely depends on what you're going into. But in general I'd say the standard is

    -Real Analysis
    -Complex Analysis
    -Vector Calc
    -A teensy bit of Calculus of Variations
    -ODE's and PDE's
    -linear algebra

    Generally once you've done your mathematical physic course that are core for pretty much all physics majors you're done.
  4. Jul 20, 2009 #3


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    Gold Member

    I'd throw in differential geometry into the mix. I've heard it is a great help for GR. Ask some graduate students what classes they felt were helpful and see what you come up with.
  5. Jul 20, 2009 #4


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    Group theory is a great thing to be familiar with, at least at a basic level, before you go into grad school. Obviously it's most relevant for certain areas like particle physics, but even basic quantum mechanics uses it. Group theory is the one class that I didn't take as an undergrad but wished I had.

    In contrast, I haven't found complex analysis to be all that useful (although it was a requirement of my undergrad program, so I guess it must be good for something).
  6. Jul 21, 2009 #5
    Take a look at some physics curriculums in different graduate schools for various types of physics...see what math courses are required/provided in the areas of special interest to you....also note required pre-requisite courses.
  7. Jul 21, 2009 #6
    If you can get through boas i'd say you're set for jackson and sakurai.
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