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Ottahhh

How to get into physics as a teenager

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Hello!

I'm a 14 year old with a huge interest in physics. At my current age we aren't really learning much about physics at school, but I really want to get into it.

I'm pretty beginner with physics as I've never really learnt it, but as I said, I want to change this. I want to learn physics in a way that I could approach astrophysics later on as primarily, space is my big interest. I am prepared to buy books as at school, I have long lunchtimes and break times which I could use as an opportunity to read, learn more and at the same time, makes things more fun for myself. I consider myself fairly literate so I'm not too fussed about the level of English knowledge involved. For example, I don't want books recommended that are aimed for someone who's just learning physics for exams and using books for revision etc. I want to be able to learn about the raw fundamentals of physics as well! The maths behind it and all that stuff interest me as well. I'm not incredible at maths so I would like something that brings it in slowly, but at the same time, contains the actual stuff, not just shortened down for the sake of simplicity.

 

I know the specifications I mentioned above are a bit specific, but I just want to get into it properly, not just at a glance. Any books you recommend do not have to be consice. By all means, recommend a massive, lengthy book, I will still read it.

 

Thanks in advance

Ottahhh

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Advice: Focus on your current coursework. If possible, test out of your current highschool/middleschool coursework as soon as possible. From there, free up your time to focus more on what you're interested in.

 

It's great to see people with ambition. However, you have to be realistic... You need to focus on the task at hand. I'll be straight with you. If you're dead serious, and I mean dead serious, the level of coursework you're dealing with at your age should be no sweat. Simply setting social life aside and hammering down current school work should free up enough time for you to study what you want.

 

Anyway, I can't finish this post. I'm being asked to leave my current building. Sorry. Anyway, someone else can go into these details.

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If space is your general interest then joining your local astronomical society could be a good idea. What Genecks says is right. Read as much as you can about whatever interest you, but don't get too distracted, you need good grades now.

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You say that you want material that is not shortened down for the sake of simplicity, and so by definition that will be material that uses advanced mathematics. It is important to point out that the real blossoming of physics as a subject of intensive study happened in the Enlightenment era, with the discovery of Calculus, and the subsequent rapid advances made in mathematics. Without advanced mathematics all you'll get is books with fuzzy general statements about how "energy takes different forms" or about how "space and time bend and wiggle," but without any detail, because the detail is all in the mathematics.

 

Mathematics is the language of physics in the same way that English is the language of novels. The novels we give to children feel like children's novels specifically because they use only basic English. Likewise, the physics that beginners are given feels like beginner physics specifically because it avoids advanced mathematics.

 

If you want the "real stuff" when it comes to physics (including astrophysics) then at the very least you will need to know some calculus, vector calculus, and a little bit of linear algebra too.

 

If you want to give yourself a good education in such things then you'll have to seek out books for that make heavy use of advanced mathematics. It might be hard to get book suggestions, since no responsible teacher would suggest books which are so far beyond your current mathematical ability. But I'm not a responsible teacher, so here's a preliminary list:

 

(1) "Calculus, 4th edition" by Michael Spivak

(2) "Vector Calculus, 6th edition", by Marsden and Tromba

(3) "University Physics with Modern Physics, 13th edition", by Young & Freedman

(4) "Fundamentals of Physics (Extended), 9th Edition", by Halliday & Resnick

 

This list is lacking a good introductory calculus text, but I actually don't know of any, so perhaps I'll leave that as a blank for other posters speak more on. Personally, I learned basic calculus from a private tutor, and then jumped directly into more advanced texts like Spivak. However, I've seen colleges use texts like:

 

(5) "Calculus of a Single Variable, 9th edition" by Larson & Edwards

(6) "Calculus, 7th edition" by Stewart

(7) "Calculus: Early Transcendentals, 7th edition" by Stewart

 

I know that the introductory calculus course at Columbia University in New York uses one of the books by Stewart, and a university which I attended briefly used Larson & Edwards (though I wasn't actually in the course). So, note that I can't speak on whether or not texts 5, 6, and 7 are actually any good, since I've never had the chance to look at any of them; I just know that they're out there.

 

Lastly, teaching is somewhat of an interest of mine. If you would be up for some lessons over instant messenger, then I could possibly help get you started with calculus and some a bit of calculus-based physics. If you're good with algebra and you understand the concept of a ratio then I could show you around some basic derivative calculus. If derivatives go well then integral calculus and calculus-based physics could be potential subjects as well.

 

I sent you a private message here on the forums with my contact info, if you choose to take me up on that offer that's how you can get in touch.

 

P.S.

I disagree with Genecks and ajb. I would put it out there that it's definitely an option to do the opposite of what they advise, namely to ignore your schoolwork and focus instead on your self-motivated interests. I actually dropped out of school at exactly your age; though for me it was to pursue software engineering, which ended up working out great.

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<SNIP>

 

This is the kind of response I was looking for. I will look into these books and I'll drop you an email when I look into these books etc.

 

As for the other responses, I appreciate your opinions as well, I will keep what you've said in mind, however, I like to learn things on my own as well as at school.

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Ottahhh - I encourage caution using personal email with a member who has only one post at this site. It's possible their recommendations are good, but they joined only to get you to email them. That should inspire some reluctance to share personal details.

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Ottahhh - I encourage caution using personal email with a member who has only one post at this site. It's possible their recommendations are good, but they joined only to get you to email them. That should inspire some reluctance to share personal details.

 

Now that I think about it, I'm not at all surprised that a fresh account popping up and immediately offering to swap contact information raises suspicion. I suppose I can't say much to really defend myself, but I'll try anyway :P

 

I'm a reject from physicsforums.com looking for a new science forum to call home. They grew to dislike me there on PF as a result of my being on the wrong side of a certain... umm... "heated debate" about education; and due to a few other things as well. I've been lurking here on scienceforums.net for about a week now, and Ottahhh's post was just the first one that I felt I could productively respond to.

 

I really do enjoy tutoring friends and acquaintances when I can, free of charge. Besides being fun, it's personally useful in that teaching helps me to better develop my own understanding of a subject.

 

So, yeah, I throw myself out there whenever I see someone who I think might take well to an offer of a few free math or physics lessons. It seems appropriate when a poster doesn't yet have access to the classes they would want, but is nonetheless motivated and desperately curious to dive into things; that seems to be Ottahhh's case.

 

I did this sort of thing a few times on physicsforums.com, and on two of the four instances it turned out being extremely productive for both me and the student. Though I will admit that it definitely does raise suspicion when it comes from a completely fresh account. Take it as you will, I suppose.

 

He doesn't have to email me. Or he can email me from a fake address. It's all good with me.

Edited by rutski

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I just feel there is no good reason to avoid communicating directly through the forum itself... whether here in the thread, or in private message, if needed. Sharing emails is just stupid, IMO, and when it's shared openly here EVERYONE benefits from the contribution.

 

Sorry to derail the thread. Please, carry on.

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I just feel there is no good reason to avoid communicating directly through the forum itself... whether here in the thread, or in private message, if needed. Sharing emails is just stupid, IMO, and when it's shared openly here EVERYONE benefits from the contribution.

 

Sorry to derail the thread. Please, carry on.

 

 

It's instant messenger handles on Skype or AIM that I've always swapped with people in the past, not emails; needless to say, anything that could be called a "lesson" or "tutoring session" needs to be done in real time as opposed to on a forum. I never said "email" in my original post, if you'll notice. It just kind of got slipped in there, and I repeated it afterward :P

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P.S.

I disagree with Genecks and ajb. I would put it out there that it's definitely an option to do the opposite of what they advise, namely to ignore your schoolwork and focus instead on your self-motivated interests. I actually dropped out of school at exactly your age; though for me it was to pursue software engineering, which ended up working out great.

 

However, you will find it difficult to get to university without reasonable grades at high school. That is just the fact of the matter.

 

... I like to learn things on my own as well as at school.

 

That is the way to do it, but don't lose sight of the early goals in your career.

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Sharing emails is just stupid, IMO, and when it's shared openly here EVERYONE benefits from the contribution.

 

 

i like what u said. 100% support. :lol:

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The first question I'd ask is:

 

Where are you in physics? Learning basic mechanics?

 

Second is: Where are you in math?

=Uncool-

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However, you will find it difficult to get to university without reasonable grades at high school. That is just the fact of the matter.

 

It's a "fact" huh? Could you provide some evidence for this "fact?" All of the major schools out there accept home schoolers, even with no high school grades to show whatsoever:

 

Stanford: http://www.stanford....ome_school.html

MIT: http://mitadmissions...pare/homeschool

Columbia: http://www.studentaf...r/home-schooled

Caltech: http://www.admission...ng/homeschooled

 

... and the list goes on and on.

 

MIT almost accepted me as a homeschooler; to repeat, no high school grades were required. Though I didn't get accepted, the reason was lack of SAT scores, not lack of high school grades. I got a call back from the admissions directory with an apology, saying that they were on the verge of sending me an acceptance letter, but that they couldn't due to the fact that I didn't have SAT or ACT scores on file with them. He said with a wink that I should take the SATs and few SAT subject tests on the next testing date, and then resubmit my application for the nearest next semester. I ended up going to a good liberal arts school by the name of Sarah Lawrence College instead, which didn't have the strict SAT requirement.

 

It's really just standardized test scores that provide the main barrier for entry. High school grades can be ignored if you play your cards right, and it's not that hard to do.

 

I stand by my statement that focusing less on schoolwork in favor of focusing more on self-motivated interests is a viable option. Though I will add the colleges look at such a student best when the student takes that strategy to the extreme rather than just moderately.

 

Though actually, why has the matter of college and grades entered into this thread at all? Ottahhh originally posted asking for concrete advice on how to get started studying physics, but instead he got two attempts to gently steer him back to his schoolwork, and then some advice about not talking to strangers, and now a back-and-forth about whether or not grades are important. I think this thread is starting to get derailed, I almost feel guilty about hitting "submit" on this message you're reading now, but I've already written it, and I can't quite bring myself to just scrap all of this text. This is the last I'll write on anything not directly related to the the post's title, which stated subject, which is "How to get into physics as a teenager."

 

The first question I'd ask is:

 

Where are you in physics? Learning basic mechanics?

 

Second is: Where are you in math?

=Uncool-

 

 

Are you seriously asking this question of a 14 year old who's asking for advice on how to get started? :P

 

I doubt he knows any physics at all yet, and with math he's probably solid on algebra and a bit of basic geometry, but not much beyond that (I'm open to being corrected on either of those points). I wouldn't expect much more at that age, though with the level of motivation he seems to have I would expect that he'll shoot pretty far ahead in the next 2-3 years.

Edited by rutski

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Ottahhh, if you still happen to be paying attention to this thread, please do not listen to rutski so far as ignoring your high school grades is concerned. Stay in school and do as best as you can. Life will be much easier for you come college application time if you do.

 

If you wish to supplement your learning with additional study, then that's fine, but as Genecks and ajb have said, you don't want to spend so much time learning additional material at the expense of your high school grades. You also don't want to pile on too much new material at once. Picking up a general text on whatever area you're interested in might be a good start and may even help you in your understanding of the content you're learning at school.

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Well, quite a contrast of opinions here!

I would like to note that I have not stated that I'm going to steer away from my standard schooling. Frankly, I think the fact I'm trying to learn more about science out of school suggests the complete opposite. Just because I want to learn more about a field of science, it doesn't mean I'm going to disregard my standard schooling. I want to learn more about physics just as a large portion of my peers want to go out and get drunk in an attempt to display an ounce of maturity by drinking alcohol which to be sincere, I think is pathetic. My schooling doesn't take up all the 168 hours in a week. As an insomniac, I don't sleep much and to be honest, I want to utilize the time I have from not sleeping on something productive anyway and my keen interest in physics is a perfect opportunity. Going off on a slight tangent, let's say that school takes up 6 hours of my day. I probably spend around 2 hours doing school work everyday, 2 hour doing other stuff, 5-6 hours for sleep, put that all together and you get 16 hours which leaves me a void of 8 hours. I've spent a year or two spending this time on computer programming, but I wish to move onto other stuff (obviously, physics).

 

I doubt he knows any physics at all yet, and with math he's probably solid on algebra and a bit of basic geometry, but not much beyond that (I'm open to being corrected on either of those points). I wouldn't expect much more at that age, though with the level of motivation he seems to have I would expect that he'll shoot pretty far ahead in the next 2-3 years.

 

 

You are close to the truth, but not quite. Your assumption on my math skills is relatively accurate, from doing computer programming and writing simple game engines, I have learnt a substantial amount of math skills involving algebra, geometry and a tiny, tiny, tiny bit of trigonometry, but I am in no way an expert in either of these fields. Your speculation regarding my knowledge of physics however, is not quite as accurate. I've already done quite a bit of reading on Wikipedia pages etc. I have an understanding of protons, neutrons, electron, quarks, the composition of an atom, the basic laws of physics such as Newton's laws of motion and some other stuff which is currently slipping my mind. But still, I'm a beginner, and my goals stay constant.

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Well, quite a contrast of opinions here!

I would like to note that I have not stated that I'm going to steer away from my standard schooling. Frankly, I think the fact I'm trying to learn more about science out of school suggests the complete opposite. Just because I want to learn more about a field of science, it doesn't mean I'm going to disregard my standard schooling.

 

That is great.

 

Have you thought about asking your high school teachers for advice? They may have a better idea than us about what is suitable regarding your next step.

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inow +1 (I never thought I'd do that with your attitude but credit where it's due and all that).

 

Otahhh

 

What does this stand for by the way?

On Target Academics?

 

In my opinion you should not concentrate exclusively on Physics.

At your stage developing Thinking is very very imporant.

If you learn only to look at things from one aspect you become blinkered but if you can take a wider view you will see things from new and different perspectives and maybe make great discoveries as a result.

 

So I recommend activities that develop (logical) thinking.

 

Play logical games such a s chess.

Do puzzles and brainteasers.

Try to answer practical questions eg look around in the real world you know how much a bag of flour or potatoes weighs. Look at a truck load and try to estimate how much it weighs.

 

What sort of parameters are important?

 

Is the shape or size of the potato important?

 

What arrangement of tennis balls allows you to pack the most balls into a box?

 

If there are N players in a knockout tennis tournament, how many matches will have to be played to decide a winner?

 

Physics deals with the world around us so get the feel and intuition of this world.

 

One point, when I was your age, the education syllabus in science (including maths and physics) expected the candidates to be able to display the ability to provide a logical chain of reasoning.

 

This is no longer the case, one of the worst offenders being multiple choice questions which, by definition contain the 'right' answer.

 

For example a geometry question, in my day, might have shown a picture of a complicated figure giving angles at one end and asking for angles at the other.

This means the the required answer could not be obtained directly, but required the determination od an intermediate result.

 

Today all I see is a simple triangle showing two angles and asking if the third is (1), (2) or (3)

So the required answer is directly available.

 

The skill of being able to recognise that a sequence of determinations ( measurements or calculation) is necessary to achieve a desired result and to organise those determinations is vital to good science.

 

If you like chess, doing chess problems develops this skill, and allows you to explore 'what if' ideas and is fun to boot.

 

go well

Edited by studiot

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I just occurred to me to chime back in and mention that all of those books are pretty expensive, and buying all of them would probably cost well over $1,000; maybe even closer to $2,000. But, if you have a library near by then you can get all of them for free. Even if they don't have them at your local branch, that local branch will probably be well enough connected to the world's inter-library loan system that they will be able to put in a request to nearby university libraries and have the books shipped in for you. The definition of "nearby" here usually means about ~1,000 miles.

 

With inter-library loans like that you only get a given book for a handful of weeks, but it's better than nothing. One idea is to order them all from the inter-library loan system, skim through them a bit, and then based on that decide which 2 or 3 are worth putting down money for.

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In regards to the above post,

You might be able to buy used books online, at thrift stores, garage sales, and of course, book sales. At least that's where I got most of mine.

I wish you good fortune in your endeavors.

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I think it is great to want to learn physics at such a young age, because I did it myself : I understood Special relativity at about 13, and General Relativity at 16.

But I was quite dissatisfied at the available literature then (there was no Internet at that time).

In fact, and despite the fact that school and higher education (unfortunately) took much of my time, I learned about as much by rediscovering things by my own research, than by learning from formal eduction or books. (Well of course I would probably not have been able to discover comparably many things if they had not been already known, as the outside information guided this search, but...).

And I still do think there is a general lack of cleaning up the explanations of theories by most authors.

So I undertook to write my own math and physics courses, to provide the optimal explanations that I found possible and still not available elsewhere (as far as I could see).

 

It may seem not so big if you only look at the number of pages, but it is very dense in concepts, so that by reading it slowly you will learn much more than reading other courses more quickly.

It is still far from complete but it already contains a good start (with the foundations of mathematics) and some other information, including one of the key reasonings by which I could find an expression of General Relativity (having not succeeded at that time to follow the calculations in a book) : the case of the universal expansion. (Sorry I assumed there some basic knowledge of mechanics and geometry that I did not introduce yet - this will need to be completed, or you can easily find it elsewhere anyway).

With a little bit of courage you can also obtain the Schwarzschild's black hole by the same method.

I intend developing it in the next months, so hopefully, starting reading it now, the time you read what is ready there, it will become more complete.

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