# Mathematical Tools for Physics

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About *Mathematical Tools for Physics:*

Excerpts from book:

I wrote this text for a one semester course at the sophomore-junior level. Our experience with students taking our junior physics courses is that even if they’ve had the mathematical prerequisites, they usually need more experience using the mathematics to handle it efficiently and to possess usable intuition about the processes involved. If you’ve seen infinite series in a calculus course, you may have no idea that they’re good for anything. If you’ve taken a differential equations course, which of the scores of techniques that you’ve seen are really used a lot? The world is (at least) three dimensional so you clearly need to understand multiple integrals, but will everything be rectangular?

How do you learn intuition?

When you’ve finished a problem and your answer agrees with the back of the book or with your friends or even a teacher, you’re not done. The way do get an intuitive understanding of the mathematics and of the physics is to analyze your solution thoroughly. Does it make sense? There are almost always several parameters that enter the problem, so what happens to your solution when you push these parameters to their limits? In a mechanics problem, what if one mass is much larger than another? Does your solution do the right thing? In electromagnetism, if you make a couple of parameters equal to each other does it reduce everything to a simple, special case? When you’re doing a surface integral should the answer be positive or negative and does your answer agree?

When you address these questions to every problem you ever solve, you do several things. First, you’ll find your own mistakes before someone else does. Second, you acquire an intuition about how the equations ought to behave and how the world that they describe ought to behave. Third, It makes all your later efforts easier because you will then have some clue about why the equations work the way they do. It reifies algebra.

Does it take extra time? Of course. It will however be some of the most valuable extra time you can spend.

Is it only the students in my classes, or is it a widespread phenomenon that no one is willing to sketch a graph? (“Pulling teeth” is the clich´e that comes to mind.) Maybe you’ve never been taught that there are a few basic methods that work, so look at section 1.8. And keep referring to it. This is one of those basic tools that is far more important than you’ve ever been told. It is astounding how many problems become simpler after you’ve sketched a graph. Also, until you’ve sketched some graphs of functions you really don’t know how they behave.

I wrote this text for a one semester course at the sophomore-junior level. Our experience with students taking our junior physics courses is that even if they’ve had the mathematical prerequisites, they usually need more experience using the mathematics to handle it efficiently and to possess usable intuition about the processes involved. If you’ve seen infinite series in a calculus course, you may have no idea that they’re good for anything. If you’ve taken a differential equations course, which of the scores of techniques that you’ve seen are really used a lot? The world is (at least) three dimensional so you clearly need to understand multiple integrals, but will everything be rectangular?

How do you learn intuition?

When you’ve finished a problem and your answer agrees with the back of the book or with your friends or even a teacher, you’re not done. The way do get an intuitive understanding of the mathematics and of the physics is to analyze your solution thoroughly. Does it make sense? There are almost always several parameters that enter the problem, so what happens to your solution when you push these parameters to their limits? In a mechanics problem, what if one mass is much larger than another? Does your solution do the right thing? In electromagnetism, if you make a couple of parameters equal to each other does it reduce everything to a simple, special case? When you’re doing a surface integral should the answer be positive or negative and does your answer agree?

When you address these questions to every problem you ever solve, you do several things. First, you’ll find your own mistakes before someone else does. Second, you acquire an intuition about how the equations ought to behave and how the world that they describe ought to behave. Third, It makes all your later efforts easier because you will then have some clue about why the equations work the way they do. It reifies algebra.

Does it take extra time? Of course. It will however be some of the most valuable extra time you can spend.

Is it only the students in my classes, or is it a widespread phenomenon that no one is willing to sketch a graph? (“Pulling teeth” is the clich´e that comes to mind.) Maybe you’ve never been taught that there are a few basic methods that work, so look at section 1.8. And keep referring to it. This is one of those basic tools that is far more important than you’ve ever been told. It is astounding how many problems become simpler after you’ve sketched a graph. Also, until you’ve sketched some graphs of functions you really don’t know how they behave.