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Where do I start?

  1. May 2, 2014 #1

    I have recently become very interested in physics. I feel like having a good physics background allows you to properly grasp everything that is going on around you and ultimately the Universe. I am very eager to learn about how things work, about light, energy, Isaac Newton's laws, Albert Einstein's E=MC2, elementary particles, forces, gravity, black holes... I want to know everything! haha. I feel like there are so many things you can learn from physics that pertain to everyday life, and I am constantly searching on my phone for random questions that pop into my head.

    The problem is that there is what seems like an infinite amount of knowledge on the subject and I don't know where to start. Thats what my question is for you, where do I start? What are some good books or online courses/study material for beginners? What subjects should I start with and advance onto? I figured it would be best to start with basic mechanics like friction, pullies, levers etc. It would be really nice to have some guidance on this from experienced physicists and physics lovers.

    Your advice will be greatly appreciated,

    Thank you,

  2. jcsd
  3. May 2, 2014 #2


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    You missed a very important piece of information: what is your reason for wanting to learn all of this?

    If you wish to learn it simply for your own education, then we can recommend many elementary/pop-science/casual books. If you wish to learn it so that you have the same level of understanding as someone with a degree in physics, then the most direct way is to get a formal degree in it.

    Of course, this all depends on what level of education that you currently have, especially on your knowledge of mathematics. To do the latter, having mathematical skills is non-negotiable.

  4. May 2, 2014 #3
    My reasoning is curiosity. So the first option, simply for my own education. I believe that you can learn anything you want as long as you have a genuine interest in the subject. And I realize that a huge chunk of physics is basically just math. That is why I have also begun to further my education on that subject. Im just looking for a starting point and some good material to learn from.

    Let me put it this way.
    Imagine you are a teacher with a classroom full of students who know little about physics, and your job is to teach them from beginner to advanced. You would have to make some kind of lesson plan. Some kind of guideline for what subjects you will teach them as they are all building blocks for the next subject. So where would you start and what order would you teach it in?
  5. May 2, 2014 #4
    What's your current math knowledge? Do you feel comfortable with algebra? Trig? Geometry? Calculus?
  6. May 2, 2014 #5
    No I am not comfortable with any of those. My math knowledge is very basic at the moment, but I just bought a book to teach basic algebra and geometry.
  7. May 2, 2014 #6
    Well, then you know what to do. Study algebra, trigonometry and geometry extensively. You need to know this cold. You should be able to do algebraic and trigonometric manipulations like you walk, so to speak.

    After this, you can do some algebra based physics. But you will need to know precalculus and some calculus in order to start doing the real physics.
  8. May 2, 2014 #7


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    The term "advanced" is vague. How high is advanced? PhD level? You cannot teach that because at the PhD level, the student has to do his/her own research work. This is not something that can be taught. There is no "lesson plan" to teach students from First Grade all the way to final year Ph.D.

    While you can "learn anything", in principle, in reality, this is often either not possible, not feasible, and for many people, no practical. This is true if you have to spend a lot of time catching up with the mathematics, which appears to be the case for you.

    So my advice is, to simply stick to pop-science text, and maybe some simple, no-calculus intro physics text that has a lot of description.

  9. May 2, 2014 #8
    It is not an easy decision deciding to become a real physicist.
    When I was 14 I became very interested in physics like you but I was not interested in it for the right reason, I was just fascinated by massive particle accelerators, nukes, black holes, quantum mechanics etc. so I read about these things in my free time as a hobby.

    If you are interested in it because you want to advance the field of physics, invent something useful, etc. then that is good reason to become a physicist. If you became interests in it because you watched a discovery channel documentary or suddenly became interested in it because you realized it is "cool" then keep it a hobby.

    I will recommend you a few resources which I found useful, they require that you know some calculus and linear algebra though:

    1) MIT introductory lectures on physics by Walter Lewin:
    2) Yale introductory physics course:
    3) Feynmann Lectures on Physics, Vol. I, II and III
    4) Dirac's "The Principles of Quantum Mechanics"
    5) Maths for physics. Pretty much all the maths you need for undergrad:

    Skim through these resources and see whether you still like physics or not.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  10. May 2, 2014 #9
    How advanced I want to go is completely irrelevant. I suggest you read the last sentence of the first paragraph you just quoted of mine so you can understand what Im asking of you, and stop reading into everything I write so much. What I am asking is a very simple question with what should be a few simple answers.
  11. May 2, 2014 #10
    Thing is, the question does not have a simple answer.
  12. May 2, 2014 #11


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    Then sorry, I am unable to help you, because (i) I obviously have trouble in figuring out which part of your posts is "completely irrelevant" and shouldn't be considered and (ii) I have no ability to produce "few simple answers" to such a question.

  13. May 2, 2014 #12
    I beg to differ!
  14. May 2, 2014 #13
    Are you meaning to tell me that there is no learning material for beginners?
  15. May 2, 2014 #14


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    Hang on. Re-read all the responses that you were given already in this thread.

    Unlike your posts, all of what I had written are relevant. If you look closely, you would have seen several suggestions on how you should start:

    1. Try pop-science books
    2. Build up on your mathematics.
    3. Look for non-calculus intro physics text.

    You didn't try to pursue ANY of these. Rather, you kept asking for the impossible "beginner to advanced", and vague questions. If you had asked for specific texts for, say, #3, we would have given you examples (there are already tons in our Physics/Math textbooks list in the forum).

    You HAVE been given what you asked. You may not have realized it, but it is there!

  16. May 2, 2014 #15
    I realize you gave those three suggestions, but I am looking for something more specific. Such as 'specific' textbooks, subjects, youtube subscriptions, online courses etc.
  17. May 2, 2014 #16


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    No. But there are no good answers to vague questions like yours. If you want bad answers, this isn't the right place to ask. So try explaining as accurately and completely as possible your current level of understanding in math and physics. Also, what are your goals, especially where you hope to end up. What is your timeframe? How much time and effort do you wish to devote to this endeavor?

    Be careful to provide this information with appropriate error bars. It should be clear to you that the effort you put into crafting a good question will communicate clearly how much effort you'll be willing and able to put into learning physics. From what you've said so far my suggestion is to start by learning some math. It doesn't really matter how you go about this.
  18. May 2, 2014 #17
    No, not at all.

    I suggest that you keep it simple. Start with Khan Academy and stick with it for some time. Learn basic algebra and calculus then move on to physics on Khan Academy. Once you are done with Khan Academy, move on to more advanced things like the stuff I suggested.

    If you want a specific textbook for beginners, look no further than Resnick and Halliday. It teachers you everything in physics in general, which gives you a good general understanding of physics. However, you need to work on basic maths and physics from Khan Academy before moving on to Resnick and Halliday.

    If you want a progression path to advanced physics, then do this:

    Learn basics from Khan Academy.
    Learn general physics from Resnick and Halliday and/or Yale/MIT introductory lectures
    Learn single variable calculus, multivariable calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, real analysis
    Learn more specialized topics:
    • Quantum mechanics: zettili is a good book, dirac is also very good
    • Special relativity
    • Classical mechanics: Goldstein is a good book
    • Electricity and magnetism: Griffiths is a good book
    • Thermal physics: Concepts in Thermal Physics - S. Blundell, K. Blundell is good
    Then move on to advanced maths and physics topics:
    • Quantum mechanics
    • Statistical mechanics
    • Electrodynamics
    • Quantum systems
    • Astrophysics
    • General relativity
    • Functional analysis
    • Complex analysis
    • Metric and Hilbert spaces
    • Differential topology
    Assuming you do all of this, now you have the same knowledge as an undergrad. You are still a very very long way from a Ph.D.
  19. May 2, 2014 #18


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    I've taught college intro physics courses at three different levels. The lowest one was for students with minimal math background (in our case, elementary-school education majors). It used this book, which is also popular for high-school non-AP courses:


    The next level up requires algebra and some trigonometry. At the college where I work, this is the course that students take when they need to take physics as part of the requirements for some other major. There are many textbooks at this level. We use this one:


    Finally, physics and engineering majors usually start with a calculus-based course. This is the "gateway" to intermediate and advanced undergraduate courses on specific topics. Here's a widely used textbook:


    Oh gee, this is yet another new edition... Here's a tip: for self study, there's generally nothing wrong with older editions of intro physics textbooks, which you can get a lot cheaper than the current editions, especially for used copies.

    In your case, I'd suggest starting with Hewitt while you work on your math. This should give you a feeling for the "lay of the land" before you start with a more math-intensive textbook.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  20. May 2, 2014 #19


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  21. May 2, 2014 #20
    The Khan and staff science sites look great! And I will definitely look into those textbooks!

    Thanks guys!
  22. May 3, 2014 #21


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    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  23. May 3, 2014 #22
    I think what you need to do first is read ZapperZ's question. To what level do you want to learn physics? The type you see on Discovery channel for personal interest or that equivalent to someone who learnt it from a university? If it is the latter, then obviously you need to learn the mathematics first before even doing algebra physics. Afterwards if you are still interested, you can learn more mathematics (specifically calculus) and then move on to more traditional university level books (something like halliday & resnick).
  24. May 3, 2014 #23
    Great videos. Where do i find such kind of videos other than youtube?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  25. May 4, 2014 #24
    I completely disagree with this. Many people start out being interested only in the pop sci documentaries and such but as they get more exposure to the field, begin to appreciate "real" physics and move away from these popular books. I was one of those people.

    How can you expect an early high school student with little exposure to calculus or even geometry/trigonometry to find a true appreciation for classical mechanics, where some of the most interesting aspects involve the Lagrangian formulation, for example. The fact that the person thinks physics is "cool" at all is great. Why not encourage them to dig deeper and see if they think it is still worth pursuing after finding out what it is really all about.
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