Portable physics primer?
September 21, 2017 8:51 AM   Subscribe

Best resources for learning physics on a commute?

As mentioned in a previous AskMe, I have about a 2-3 hour commute (round trip) per day. Normally I read novels or check my email, listen to podcasts, etc., but I'm getting to the point where I'm interested in doing something more constructive.

I've always been interested in physics but the most education I have is a very very elementary "college credit" class from high school, which as I recall was kind of a joke, and I don't remember much of the content. I never took any physics courses in college. I have Calculus, some linear algebra (though I could use more), and a CS background.

I'm interested in the basics and perhaps eventually more of an EE type training. I don't mind working things out on paper, doing problem sets, writing simulations, etc. The thing is it's quite bumpy on my commute so I would actually prefer either book/paper resources or handheld electronic resources for the commute itself, because trying to do anything seriously on my laptop is a pain. Laptop things (like simulations) are fine but I will be doing them in a different context.

Any suggestions as to where to start?
posted by stoneandstar to Education (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The Theoretical Minimum and accompanying video lectures. There are follow-on courses covering E&M, quantum mechanics, etc.
posted by eugenen at 9:21 AM on September 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Larry Gonick's Cartoon Guide to Physics might be a nice place to start.
posted by heatherlogan at 10:27 AM on September 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, I can't not mention the Feynman Lectures on Physics (3-volume set), which I am delighted to discover has now been transcribed to the web by Caltech's Division of Physics, Math and Astronomy!
posted by heatherlogan at 10:32 AM on September 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

2nding Gonick. He's accessible without dumbing it down, and it's a fun read too boot.
posted by cosmicbandito at 11:22 AM on September 21, 2017

When you say "basics", do you mean the absolute basics of physics, like "if a 10lbm mass sits on a 30 degree incline with a coefficient of friction of 0.3, calculate the force required to...."; or are you more interested in the fundamentals of particle physics?

The basics of physics that are taught in high school and freshman year of college having to do with balance of forces, equilibrium, conservation laws of momentum and energy, etc are necessary concepts to understand almost anything in physics, however if you already have those basic concepts then particle physics (including quantum physics) may be the next step to focus on.

I found the book "The Theory of Almost Everything: The Standard Model, the Unsung Triumph of Modern Physics" by Robert Oerter to be an excellent introduction to particle physics. Very clear and concise. His first chapter outlines the progression of physics through the centuries and shows how various areas of theory came to be unified. It's not a very long, laborious read and would work well on a commute.
posted by incolorinred at 11:29 AM on September 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you are comfortable with math, I highly recommend Shankar's Fundamentals of Physics, which is basically a transcription of his outstanding undergrad lectures at Yale (you can watch the videos too). I think he has the perfect mix of chattiness and rigor, though everyone's tastes differ. There's a second volume too.

The Theoretical Minimum lectures are awesome and basically what got me started in physics again, but 1) the lecture videos are way better than the book, and 2) he dives straight into Lagrangian/Hamiltonian classical mechanics, which you generally don't do until after you've worked through the regular Newtonian formulation of the same concepts and acquired some intuition.
posted by dfan at 1:13 PM on September 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I found this series from The Great Courses very enjoyable. Even though it's a video presentation, I ripped only the audio to my mp3 player and it was easy enough to follow along. I borrowed this series from my local library.


Other related series from the Great Courses I've really enjoyed, include:


posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 6:17 AM on September 23, 2017

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