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Which math classes should I take as a [physical] chemistry major?

  1. Jun 7, 2012 #1
    I am majoring in chemistry at UCLA with physical chemistry concentration (transferring as a junior next semester), intent on pursuing research in the field in the future. I would like to minor in mathematics (if a double major is not possible), but I'm having a hard time deciding what classes I should take (the minor requires seven, which is all I can really fit if I am to graduate in two years). So of the classes below, which might be most beneficial (full list here)?

    [STRIKE]Math 115A (Linear Algebra) - Taking[/STRIKE]
    -Math 131AB (Analysis) - Required for all math majors, so I'd imagine this is fairly useful
    -Math 110AB (Algebra)- I've been told group theory is important in physics. There is also a third course on Galois theory.
    -Math 134/135/136 (Linear/Nonlinear, Ordinary, Partial DE)
    -Math 120AB (Differential Geometry)
    -Math 142 (Mathematical Modelling)
    -Math 170AB (Probability Theory)

    Along with Linear Algebra A, I'm currently considering 131AB, 110AB, and either two DE courses or one DE course and 120A. Would this be a good sequence or might there possibly be a better one? And if I am to take one or two DE courses, which one or two should I take Between linear/nonlinear, ordinary, and partial)?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 7, 2012 #2
    Algebra is not particularly useful in chemistry. 'Group theory' is used extensively in chemistry but it's not very similar to what is seen in a pure course on Algebra. Practically speaking, a course on inorganic chemistry or spectroscopy is enough. If there is a graduate course on group theory in inorganic chemistry, take it. There is something else called lie groups, and it does show up in the literature for chemical physicists, but again, that's not going to be covered in an UG algebra course (but I may be wrong!).

    Analysis is not very useful either, directly. It'll push you and make you better at math and thinking but in terms of the actual content, it's not that useful to chemistry (or most physicists either).

    Differential geometry is much more scarce in chemistry. Some computational people use it for protein folding, etc, etc but it's not really worth taking if you are talking for practicality.

    Otherwise, PDEs, ODEs, probability, etc, etc you can't go wrong. Mathematical methods and numerical analysis courses are particularly useful and I highly regret not taking those myself. There are groups that use analysis, algebra, diff. geo, graph theory but you shouldnt take courses because of that.
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2012
  4. Jun 7, 2012 #3
    Well I'm looking for a mix of interesting and applicable. For example, I doubt I'll ever study general relativity in any career I may pursue (I may be wrong), but it is a very interesting topic that I would like to gain a further understanding of.

    Anyway, if I take all three DE classes, I'm left with room for three more math classes. By your recommendations I would go with 151 (Applied Numerical Methods) and 170 (Probability Theory), although both are two part sequences so I would have to leave out either 151B or 170B or skip a DE course (or leave them both out and take analysis for the fun of it :)). So I guess it comes down to what would I find more useful: implicit methods, iterative methods, and discrete Fourier approximation; or limit theorems and Bernoulli and Poisson processes?
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