Undergraduate physics in a book?

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SilentStrings
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Undergraduate physics in a book?

Postby SilentStrings » Mon Jan 10, 2011 10:18 pm UTC

I came into a little bit of money over Christmas, and decided to refurbish my library a touch, and finally learn all the things I've been meaning to. However, in my giddy pocket-holing exercise in deforestation I didn't pay close enough attention to product descriptions, and I've ended up with 'A Modern Introduction to Quantum Field Theory', which turns out to be aimed at fourth-year undergrads. I haven't "done science" since high school -- I vaguely keep up with the philosophical side, but the maths is currently a closed book to me, the notation...*whoosh*. Penrose's 'The Road to Reality' is currently in the mail (despite being ordered at the same time), and I'm just wondering if a) that will clue me in sufficiently or b) there's another (single) book that could fill in the blanks, as I don't have a lot of cash left. Obviously I'm not looking for a whole degree course in one book, but something that teaches the language of it all so I can start to teach myself would be great. I'd honestly prefer a textbook, BTW, I find it easier to retain from them than entertaining popularisations.

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Clever-Username
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Re: Undergraduate physics in a book?

Postby Clever-Username » Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:23 am UTC

Haven't personally read Penrose's book, but the reviews I just read seem to say it's a difficult one to read for someone with no significant physics/math backround... in other words: good luck.

I should also recommend The Feynman Lectures on Physics, I personally love them and they're a great reference for when I'm struggling with something in my studies. Feynman uses a bit of an abnormal method to approaching introductory physics, but it is very easy to read and, in my mind, easy to understand as well. Feynman's lectures cover everything from basic algebra and kinematics to, in the final chapters, things like Probibility amplitudes in quantum mechanics, the hamiltonian matrix, QM description of the hydrogen atom, and various other applications of QM in his final volume. His lectures also include a pretty comprehensive description of electromagnetism.

While those lectures are dated (60's) they are quite the definitive collection of pretty much everything you would get from your first 3 years in undergraduate physics.

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Dopefish
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Re: Undergraduate physics in a book?

Postby Dopefish » Tue Jan 11, 2011 1:45 am UTC

If you're looking for a book on all the math you'll need for most aspects of undergrad physics, Mary L. Boas's "Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences" has served me well.

It doesn't directly teach most of the actual physics (although theres plenty of physics based examples/problems) so if you're looking for an all in one book that may not be the way to go, but if it's the math part of physics that's holding you back, then it's apt to be a good solution.

sjm4821
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Re: Undergraduate physics in a book?

Postby sjm4821 » Fri Jan 21, 2011 3:34 pm UTC

The book I used during my short time as a physics undergrad was 'Physics for scientists and engineers' By Tipler and Mosca and 'Fundamentals of Physics' by Halladay. Both are huge books that can lay down the basics of physics concepts and the mathematics behind them (probably from pre university/sixth form level up to 2nd and parts of 3rd year undergrad).
Unfortunetly they are both expensive and its only worth owning one of the two so which ever is cheaper (older editions are just as good) will suit you.

If your looking to go down the QM root a good 1st year maths book would help so that you can understand some of the calculations - something like 'Calculus - one and several variables' by Salas Hille and Etgen. Also a google of fourier transforms here would also be helpful.

SU3SU2U1
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Re: Undergraduate physics in a book?

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Fri Jan 21, 2011 6:01 pm UTC

sjm4821 wrote:The book I used during my short time as a physics undergrad was 'Physics for scientists and engineers' By Tipler and Mosca and 'Fundamentals of Physics' by Halladay. Both are huge books that can lay down the basics of physics concepts and the mathematics behind them (probably from pre university/sixth form level up to 2nd and parts of 3rd year undergrad).


Probably only through first year of undergrad, after that I would expect students move into lagrangian mechanics and an intro quantum course.

As to the original post, if your goal is to work yourself up to a level where you can read Peskin, you are going to need a pretty large base. I'd dissent with the other readers about the proper book- go with the Landau/Lifshitz Intro to Mechanics and Classical Theory of Fields, with a mathematical physics book like Boas as a supplement. Once those are well in hand (which will take a while), move on to Shankar's quantum mechanics book, and then try to start in on Peskin.

Basically, most topics in a physics sequence are taught twice (for instance, mechanics is taught in the newtonian and then the lagrangian formalism). To understand quantum field theory,you need a solid understanding of the latter, more so than the former.

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LaserGuy
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Re: Undergraduate physics in a book?

Postby LaserGuy » Fri Jan 21, 2011 8:43 pm UTC

SilentStrings wrote:I came into a little bit of money over Christmas, and decided to refurbish my library a touch, and finally learn all the things I've been meaning to. However, in my giddy pocket-holing exercise in deforestation I didn't pay close enough attention to product descriptions, and I've ended up with 'A Modern Introduction to Quantum Field Theory', which turns out to be aimed at fourth-year undergrads. I haven't "done science" since high school -- I vaguely keep up with the philosophical side, but the maths is currently a closed book to me, the notation...*whoosh*. Penrose's 'The Road to Reality' is currently in the mail (despite being ordered at the same time), and I'm just wondering if a) that will clue me in sufficiently or b) there's another (single) book that could fill in the blanks, as I don't have a lot of cash left. Obviously I'm not looking for a whole degree course in one book, but something that teaches the language of it all so I can start to teach myself would be great. I'd honestly prefer a textbook, BTW, I find it easier to retain from them than entertaining popularisations.


This is definitely not an intro textbook or an easy topic to deal with. Quantum physics is going to be very math heavy. If you aren't familiar with solving differential equations, multivariable calculus, and linear algebra (a bit of complex analysis probably wouldn't go amiss either), you'll probably need to start there. The Boas book mentioned, or another by Arfken and Weber, are comprehensive enough to cover all of this material, but they're quite difficult texts if this is your first exposure to any of this material. If your math background isn't that good, you may have to do a bit of work to get up to speed--probably you'll need an intro calc text and DEs text (they're all pretty equivalent), a linear algebra text (I'd suggest the book by Strang--I think it's just called Linear Algebra) before you jump into Boas or Arfken.

For the physics side of things...

Assuming that you have basically no working knowledge of the subject beyond high school, you'll probably want, at very, very minimum:
-A text on mechanics covering both the Newtonian and Hamiltonian formalisms - Goldstein's "Classical Mechanics" covers this, but it's a tougher text.
-A text on electromagnetism - Griffith's "Introduction to Electrodynamics" is the standard at most North American universities
-A text on modern physics - You could probably start with Shankar's book "Quantum Mechanics", although it might be conceptually quite challenging. Most universities would start off with an easier text on Modern Physics like Serway or Griffiths first.

I think you'll probably find it quite difficult to get through a QFT book without a good grasp of the basic physics that might be involved... I will mention that a lot of the foundation material can probably be found, in full detail, for free at MIT OpenCourseWare. They include lecture notes, or even video lectures, on a lot of the more introductory type stuff. This is a very difficult topic to just jump right in to.

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Jakell
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Re: Undergraduate physics in a book?

Postby Jakell » Sun Jan 23, 2011 11:11 pm UTC

I am incredibly fond of this website; it has just about everything you might need, other then a teacher. I am currently reworking my way through the quantum mechanics and EM with these works.
Physics Rocks!
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ian
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Re: Undergraduate physics in a book?

Postby ian » Mon Jan 24, 2011 4:51 am UTC

Why is it you want to teach yourself this? What are you wanting to learn? What are you wanting to do with your new knowledge? I'm a final year physics student and if someone wanted to learn more about physics in their spare time I'd honestly encourage them to stay away from too much math heavy stuff, if they are only learning it for themselves. The basic equations of relativity and QM maybe, but spending hours pouring over Dirac notation and metric tensors just doesn't seem that good a use of time, and without years of study is unlikely to really increase how well you understand a theory or idea.
The new Penrose book may be more useful to you than Road to Reality.There are some really great pop-sci books out there that are quite detailed for all subjects and are probably the best way to introduce yourself to general ideas. Then if you really want to learn the math, something like the Feynman Lectures, or the Halliday book, would be a great start.

Many of the most famous physicists have written books for a more general audience, so you could check through their various wikipedia pages to find them, or look on amazon. Jumping headfirst into a book aimed at full time undergrads studying QM or whatever is probably more likely to put you off than anything.

What's your math background?


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