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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Why Study Physics?

Physics is the basic physical science. It deals with such things as mechanics (force, energy, motion), sound, heat, light, electricity, and atomic structure In college physics we are concerned not so much with what is so but rather with why it is so. In fact, physics has been described as the science of “why things work.” 

It is studied mainly by three groups: (1) premedical students: (2) students of engineering, physics and other sciences; and (3) those who study it for its cultural value.
...All professional students, however, should be impressed with the fact that their technical knowledge rapidly goes out of date, not because it is wrong but because new and better methods and techniques are developed... Over a working life of perhaps for years, you must learn a great deal more after you leave college than before. Therefore, as an undergraduate, be sure to learn how to learn by yourself.
...As it is evident that anyone can find all the facts of physics merely by going to the public library, a [student] is hardly equipped if he knows only facts. If he knows principles he is somewhat better off but not likely to be worth much to an employer, who can learn the principles himself by a little study. The methods and techniques are about equally important and can be acquired only by practice on typical problems...
Consequently, it is clear that the real purpose of taking first-year physics is not to ‘get’ facts and principles, although these are essential, but to train one’s thinking through practice on simple problems so that later on more difficult problems and situations can be approached effectively. For this reason discussion questions, homework problems, and practice on similar problems are very important aspects of first-year physics for the professional man. The student who goes beyond first-year physics is likely to stay on the right track if he constantly asks himself the following questions about every new fact or theory: 
1. What is the fact precisely? (Don’t be vague.) 
2. Why is it so? (Very important.) 
3. How does it tie in with other ideas in physics? 
4. What is a typical problem concerning it? 
5. Do I merely understand it, or do I know what to do with it? (Better find out by trying.) 
6. What was its importance when it was discovered and how did its discovery affect the development of physics? 
7. In relation to what is it important now? Why? 
Having asked these questions, the student should formulate precise answers. Probably it will be more difficult than was anticipated but it is a very valuable phase of professional training...
Granting, then, that there are reasons for studying physics, we may return to our problem of how to study it effectively. In physics, perhaps more than in any other subject, it is necessary to develop an ability to analyze problems, to reason logically, and to discriminate between important and irrelevant material. Consequently, efforts to memorize physics are practically worthless. For most students physics involves many new concepts. To master the material takes work, and that takes time. Although you must decide how much time you can devote to physics, we hope you will learn enough from this discussion to develop a good system of studying. You must realize that a university cannot educate you. You must do that for yourself, although a college or university is the place where it is likely that you can study most efficiently.
Probably you have heard many of these ideas before. Some of them apply to any course, some are specifically related to physics. Although not all the ideas will appeal to a given individual, any suggestions appearing here have been of value to some student. Try them out. They may help you.

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