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Would taking electricity and magnetism without Mechanical Physics be challenging?

  1. Jan 8, 2013 #1
    Hey. So I switched from ChemE to Engineering-physics (I guess I followed my hearth here, instead of my head), and this entails I will have to take a course in Electricity and Magnetism this semester. During the previous one, the Engineering-physics guys took a course in mechanical physics, and apparently mechanical physics is recommended for Electricity and Magnetism. My knowledge of mechanical physics is pretty much limited to my high-school education (newton's 3 laws, kinetic and potential energy, momentum, centripetal forces etc.). The only thing going for me, is that I understand the math.

    So, I would like to get an idea of how much time I will have to spend knocking my head against a brick-wall in advance, for planning ahead. Can somebody please assist me?

    This is the curriculum for E&M:

    Electrostatics: Coulomb's law. Electric field and force. Gauss' law. Electric potential and energy. Conductors. Capacitance. Dielectrics. Magnetostatics: Magnetic field, force, moment and energy. Magnetic dipole. Biot-Savart's law. Ampere's law. Magnetic flux. Magnetic materials. Electromagnetic induction: Faraday's law. Lenz' law. Inductance. Simple electric circuits. Experimental methods: Measuring physical quantities. Data acquisition. Interpretation. Documentation.

    Curriculum for Mechanical Physics:

    A general introduction to Newtonian mechanics. Newton's laws. Conservation of energy, momentum, and angular momentum. Mechanical oscillations. Gravitation. Experimental methods: Measuring physical quantities, data acquisition, interpretation, and documentation. A separate series of lectures introduce the students to a wider field of physics and mathematics.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 8, 2013 #2
    The courses themselves are not so related, but you will need the same skills. Have you taken any physics courses before?
  4. Jan 8, 2013 #3
    No, never.

    What kind of skills?
  5. Jan 8, 2013 #4
    Problem solving skills is kind of a generic answer, but that's what I'm getting at. What courses have you taken that could have built these? Any chem-e courses? Math?
  6. Jan 8, 2013 #5
    Yeah, I did well and enjoyed Calculus 1. I also did General Chemistry (focus on chemical thermodynamics).

    But didn't I learn these problem-solving skills in high-school?
  7. Jan 8, 2013 #6


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    You will need to know how to work with vectors: at least basic things like components, addition/subtraction, dot product (scalar product), cross product (vector product). You will be using concepts from vector calculus: divergence, gradient and curl; the course may teach these as it goes along (this is often the case in the USA), or you may be expected to know them in advance.
  8. Jan 9, 2013 #7
    Calculus 2 at my university is about vectors (which will be one of four subjects I will have this semester).

    Anyways, thanks for the assistance. I talked with some veteran students and they assured me I would be fine as long as I have the mechanical physics textbook at hand.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2013
  9. Jan 9, 2013 #8
    The textbook is going to do a whole lot of good. I agree it is the problem solving skills from mechanics and the familiarity with the mathematics (especially calc based mechanics) that prepare you for E&M. E&M is more abstract then mechanics and therefore, having the background of understanding abstract ideas from mechanics (where you have more observables ) is incredibly beneficial.

    With that said, it is entirely doable, but will require significant work on your part and maybe more so if you didn't take mechanics.

    Good luck
  10. Jan 9, 2013 #9
    If you guys were in my situation:

    Which chapters/subjects in Y&F University Physics would you absolutely read in preparation for E&M?
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2013
  11. Jan 9, 2013 #10


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    This is why prerequisites exist. If your school has any integrity, they won't let you do this. If you're smart, you won't try to convince them to let you do it.
  12. Jan 9, 2013 #11
    Duno, perhaps. I understand your pessimism, but the one thing Chemistry has thought me is that I like physics better. Besides, if I **** up completely I will still have one more shot at it next-year (my university gives 1 chance to improve exam scores).

    It's not like I'm worthless at physics or maths either: I know important stuff like Newton's gravitational formula and electric potential (+magnetic/electric fields) from my (not American, but Norwegian) HS education, and I actually enjoyed slugging through Calculus 1.

    So all that in consideration, am I truly a forlorn hope? And it's not like I got much of a choice if I want to stay on the program..
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2013
  13. Jan 9, 2013 #12

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    I'm with bcrowell here. They are going to teach Physics 2 as if you already have all of Physics 1. Maybe that will work for you, and maybe it won't - it will certainly be harder, and it's not like you can raise your hand and say "I know you probably covered this in Physics 1, but I didn't take that, so could you go over this?"
  14. Jan 9, 2013 #13
    I now understand it may be difficult, but I think I can finish with a good grade if I work disciplined.

    I need some advice on where you think I should start reading CM first. Right now I think I will try reading up on mechanical oscillation (seems relevant for magnetism), and solve some problems to get a feeling for the math used in physics. Anyone with a better idea?
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2013
  15. Jan 9, 2013 #14


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    Adding to BCrowell and V50, I don't understand how a degree in "Engineeering Phiysics" that lets you get away without studying mechanics (and passing some examis to prove you learned it) is going to be worth much.

    And if you have to do both courses eventially, doing Mech first seems a no-brainer.
  16. Jan 9, 2013 #15
    It is actually Norway's best university, and Norway isn't a small player when it comes to technology.

    Anyway, mechanics is naturally required for my degree - it's just not required (only recommended) before taking E&M. If I wanted to do mechanics first, I'll have to wait till next semester for it, and after that I will have to do E&M. That will be a year wasted pretty much.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2013
  17. Jan 9, 2013 #16
    When I took freshman E&M we used nearly every topic in mechanics. Hardly any of these topics were mentioned in class. It was assumed we knew them and had to use them to solve homework problems (several problems in E&M will require the knowledge of mechanics).

    If the university recommends it, I would still take it.
  18. Jan 9, 2013 #17
    What you need to know will be dependent on how they teach the curriculum. Im sure very few are familiar with Norwegian curriculum so we can't say other than "all of CM".

    Regardless of your upcoming E&M course, being well versed in classical mechanics will be a requisite in your career and not just your upcoming semester.
  19. Jan 9, 2013 #18
    E&M without mechanics would of been a disaster for me. I wouldn't have understood anything.
  20. Jan 9, 2013 #19


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    I agree with this. There's a reason why one follows the other ubiquitously amongst unis. Unless you've studied an ample amount of CM (I swear to god I keep thinking this says center of mass lol) beforehand, it really isn't a good idea.
  21. May 31, 2013 #20
    Well, I would like to report back after the exam is finished. It was hard, but I will most likely get an A because of allot of help from my surroundings (university, this forum and Walter Lewin's lectures).

    Concerning the importance of CM to E&M: I really had no use for anything in CM except torque and the basics I already knew from high-school (momentum, centripetal acceleration, forces, work, energy etc.). I guess my physics intuition was a bit disadvantaged, but that's all.

    And it's not like the curriculum here is different from the American one. I followed Walter Lewin's excellent youtube lectures from MIT in E&M. The only difference between MIT's curriculum and my uni's curriculum is that at MIT they learn lots of applications of E&M on natural phenomena, while here we focus on learning the actual concepts more thoroughly and theoretically (more math-heavy than at MIT), forgetting about applications. I think it would be better if we focused more on qualitative reasoning (like at MIT) than quantitative, as physics and maths are different subjects, but my technical university is unfortunately obsessed about throwing maths at everything.


    So, to any guy who thinks of doing the same as me: There shouldn't be any problem as long as you are prepared to work at it. Afterall, the only specific thing you need from university-level CM is torque (to calculate magnetic and electric moments) and a bit of intuition on 2nd degree Differential Equations (for circuits).
    Last edited: May 31, 2013
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