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Where to start

  1. Aug 6, 2005 #1
    Lately I've gotten an interest in physics. Theoretical Physics in particular, string theory, parallel universes, anything to do with things like that.

    Well, I would like to learn a lot more about physics, and perhaps even get a career in it. But, I dont know whether or not I should just start studying it, without any hands-on courses in school. I would have to wait a while before I can take a course on physics in school, because my schedule for next year is already decided, I won't be taking a physics class. But I could take summer classes on it, so it's not too late. It doesn't make sense to me if I just study it, when I don't have any hands-on classes on it.

    What do you guys think? Am I right not to want to study physics until I take a course on it in school? If so, what should I do meanwhile until I get the course?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 6, 2005 #2


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    This is coming from someone who seriously regrets the lack of a formal education. By all means study it at every opportunity, rather than ignoring it, but until you can enter formal classes be careful of your source material. This is something that never existed as an issue when I was a kid, because the net didn't exist. There are too many people 'learning' from sites riddled with crackpots. Read 'Nature', 'Scientific American' (lightweight, but respectable), and whatever up-to-date textbooks you can beg, borrow or steal. Don't rush yourself. If your primary source of self-learning is the net, stay right here in PF. Crackpots do show up, but they are immediately exposed and denounced. If someone starts to steer you wrong, many others will put you back on track. My advice would be to definitely study it formally if you have an interest, even if it isn't something that you plan to base a career upon. The knowledge can save you all sorts of headaches in everyday life, even if it's just calculating how much stress the new deck that you're building can take.
  4. Aug 6, 2005 #3
    Yeah, I'm already subscribed to scientific american. And I read it every now and then.

    The net isn't my primary source of education, but it is useful for looking up things quickly on Wikipedia.

    So, what particular subject in physics should I start with? Particle physics? Mechanics? Or should I just jump right into the theoretical stuff?
  5. Aug 6, 2005 #4


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    That's probably best answered by someone in the profession. My opinion would be to start with the lowest level that you aren't already familiar with, with emphasis on the math part (I don't know any math and it's a serious handicap). Working up through the basics like leverage, EM, gravity, atomic structure, tension and compression effects and whatnot will be preparation for any other fields such as mechanical engineering or chemistry. Physics is, after all, the underlying science that all others are based upon. (Expecting attacks by all mathematicians in the audience. :uhh: ) (In my own definition, I consider math to be an essential tool rather than a science unto itself. That, of course, is subjective.)
  6. Aug 6, 2005 #5
    Always start out at the basics or else you will have no idea what's going on at the later levels. Start with classical mechanics and E&M, then move on to quantum mechanics, thermodynamics and statistical physics.
  7. Aug 7, 2005 #6
    Thanks for the help.
  8. Aug 7, 2005 #7
    Anyone who wants to learn any physics should also learn elementary calculus, if they want understand physics beyond memorizing formulae.
  9. Aug 7, 2005 #8
    Any reccomendations on books on these subjects that I should start out with?
  10. Aug 7, 2005 #9


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    Hell if you want to make it convenient for yourself, ask one of the physics professors at your university about where to start out. For one, its probably going to be a good book to start out with. Two, its probably going to give you a huge advantage when you actually do take the course. Three, the professors will be more capable of helping you with questions from the book since they are already familiar with it (some authors have particular ways of teaching that some professors don't like when it comes to teaching or don't completely understand the way its worded).

    For example, i once brought something to one of my professors and asked him to explain it off of the papers i brought. He basically re-taught me what was going on in the papers after telling me he could explain it much better and in a much simpler way
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