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What to self teach?

  1. Nov 14, 2009 #1
    I'm a chemistry major and recently discovered that I would love to go to grad school for physical chemistry (specifically computational chemistry and biophysical chemistry). Unfortunately I'm in my third year of college and don't have many free classes left. I started teaching myself math (derivative/integral/multivariable calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, and probability & statistics). I've already had physics 1 & 2 but they were algebra based unfortunately. I really want to self learn higher levels of physics but I have a few concerns.
    First, is that enough math? Should I learn any other math besides those subjects?
    My other concern is if I should get a book and learn physics 1 & 2 all over again with calculus. I'm extremely familiar with all the concepts they teach in there, just not how to derive the equations using calculus. Is it worth relearning all those concepts and going through all that material again or should I move onto learning Classical Dynamics the calculus way? The thing I am most curious about is what order I should be teaching myself the subject (typical undergraduate curriculum- Classical Dynamics, Modern Physics, Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics, Electronics, Electricity and Magnetism, Electromagnetic Waves and Optics, Biophyiscs, Quantum Mechanics). Any help you could offer would be greatly appreciated.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 15, 2009 #2
    More math is better, but if you can to basic partial differential equations, that's enough to get by. The reason more math is better is that if you do math programs, it helps your brain deal with unrelated bits of math.

    You should read a book that does physics 1 & 2 with calculus. You don't need to "relearn" anything, but I think you may be pleasantly surprised at how much more elegant physics 1 & 2 are with calculus. The main thing that you should to is to do some problems that you couldn't do without calculus.

    The standard curriculum at MIT has a class on waves, followed by a class on quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics. One other thing to do is to study in "phases". It's not going to be the case that you will be able to learn quantum mechanics or anything else in one reading. So the way to think about it is to learn just enough QM, then learn something else, then learn more QM etc.

    The other thing is that it's going to be like a tree. As you learn more, you'll have more options for what to do next, and a lot depends on personal preference.

    There are four big gaps. There are three things that you can't learn through book learning, so you should do things other then read books. The neat thing is that all of the books and learning material you need to teach yourself physics are now on the internet somewhere, and all you have to do is to add the missing pieces.

    1) Lab component - You really need to do something to get yourself out of the work of books and into the world of experiment. There is a part of physics that involves moving your hands. So you do need to do something that gets your nose out of a book.

    2) Computer component - Most physics curricula were developed in the 1930's and they don't take into account the fact that physics today is very heavily computational. You do need to develop some computer skills.

    3) Social component - Take a trip to a physics conference. Find other people that are also doing the same thing that you are trying to do and form a study group.
     
  4. Nov 15, 2009 #3
    Thank you so much, I can't wait to get started on this.
     
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