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Physics/Advancing in Physics before University


QUESTION: This is a question seeking advice. I am a high school student who wishes to further advance her knowledge in physics, ranging from classical to quantum physics, before entering college. I have had an interest in science for the past 4 years, and physics has particularly sparked my interest. I have watched, at this stage, probably most of the physics documentaries available on YouTube and read some comprehensive science texts such with such titles as 'A History of Science', and attempted more focused texts such as Brian Greene's 'The Elegant Universe'(I had to stop dead in my tracks when more complex quantum mechanical concepts were being discussed, my head ached too much and I had to keep re-reading passages). I read Scientific American and National Geographic also, but lately I've been feeling a little all over the place in my scientific reading. I often find myself reading about the sames topics over again, at a similarly low level of depth, or else reading texts that are beyond my mathematical and physical capabilities as a 10th grade student (sophomore in the US). Are there any books you would recommend to someone of my age and experience to read? Or perhaps something more I could do to feed my interest? What do top universities expect in an applying student?

Thanks for your time!

ANSWER: Geographically, where do you live? Have you considered attending a nearby university? I know you are in tenth grade, but that does not always matter as much as you might think. I have had students who attended university when they were just 16 years old - and quite successfully at that - one of my ex students in your age group is now an assistant professor at Princeton University. A high school diploma is not always required for university attendance. I worked for many years with a person who never completed high school, has no high school diploma, but has a masters from Harvard.
What you really need is a mentor. See if you can find one at a university near you.
Feel free to contact me if you would like to pursue this topic further.

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QUESTION: I'm currently living in Germany but I'm moving back to my home country, Ireland, next month. I live in a small town in the midlands there, Dublin is the nearest main city and it's about 1.5 hours away. I'd never considered actually attending college before receiving my secondary level diploma, I've never heard of anyone do that in Ireland or here. It seems a bit radical and I'm not sure how to go about applying?

Thanks for the advice

ANSWER: Unfortunately, my experiences in this area are within the United States and I really do not know how this is handles in Ireland. However, with the growth of Internet education it might actually to get this education online as long as you have Internet access. Several major name brand American universities have been offering up almost their entire curriculum online. Not quite as good as being there, but still much better than nothing. many of the online lectures currently are free.

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QUESTION: I am concerned about the level of mathematics required to complete these courses. I know they probably take the students through the steps, but I often find that direct questioning is integral to full comprehension of the respective concept. Is their anything you would recommend to help me in this regard?

You are probably correct about the direct help and that is why I suggested that you find a mentor. It would probably be less difficult than you might imagine. Visit any nearby university, go to the department head and indicate what you are looking for. You might be very surprised at the reaction! I have usually found great enthusiasm for such an arrangement.


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James J. Kovalcin


I am teaching or have taught AP physics B and C [calculus based mechanics & electricity and magnetism] as well as Lab Physics for college bound students. I have a BS in Physics from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master of Arts in Teaching from same. I have been teaching physics for 34 years. I am constantly updating my skills and have a particular interest in modern physics topics.

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