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When does university mechanics get interesting?

  1. Apr 11, 2013 #1
    It seems as if every single statics problem in the textbooks I've seen has so far amounted to proving for the billionth time that you have the pythagorean theorem memorized. It's absolutely mind numbing. At what point do we get to do fun and interesting stuff, like derive the heat equation or whatever? I'm getting worried that all mechanical engineers do is draw free body diagrams and ask their TI-84:s for the sin of 52 all day.

    I guess what I'm really asking is: Is it okay for a mechanical engineer to get incredibly bored by solving trigonometry word problems, or is it time for me to switch programs? I'm truly worried I'm heading down a path I simply won't find interesting. Someone please cheer me up :(
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 11, 2013 #2


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    Imagine you (point-like) sit at the bottom of a slope (with an angle of alpha relative to the ground) and throw a ball upwards at an angle of theta relative to the ground. Neglect all losses, assume perfect elastic collisions between ball and slope. Find an equation for theta for the ball to come back to you.

    Bonus question: Find more angles.
    Extra bonus question: Find all angles and prove that there are no others.

    It is not a statics problem, but it is a mechanics problem - it was part of an exam in "theoretical mechanics 1" (I have no idea how to transfer this to US-lectures). The bonus questions were not part of the problem statement.

    Is that "interesting stuff"?
    The heat equation is not mechanics, I think.
  4. Apr 11, 2013 #3
    Yes, that sounds like a very interesting problem. Alas, Meriam & Kraige doesn't seem to agree...
  5. Apr 11, 2013 #4


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    It would be, if that was all that mech engineers actually did all day, but they don't.

    I would agree that statics problems where the forces are statically determinate aren't very exciting, but you have to start somewhere. Part of the problem is the dumbing down of the education system over time. If you had learned how to do those problems when you were 15 or 16, you would be doing something more interesting by now.

    Mechanics gets more interesting when you start on dynamics. And if you stick with it till you get to Lagrangian methods, by warned it might suddenly turn from "interesting" to "incomprehensible!"

    "Interesting" problems are usually too hard to solve by hand. But unless you understand what you are doing, using computer software just produces pretty pictures of nonsense, and that is no use to anybody.
  6. Apr 11, 2013 #5


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    Have you consulted the program of study for your major?

    You can always read forthcoming material ahead of your class schedule.
    When I was in college, I started reading textbooks that we would use in later semesters.
    (Of course, don't neglect what you class is doing... you still have to do well enough there to continue in the major.)
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