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  1. #1
    Senior Member Forever_Jung's Avatar
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    Default Learning Science Independently

    Dear Science Nerds of TypoC,

    I am scientifically ignorant. I know, I know, I can feel your judgemental gazes burning through me, like a NeHe laser (Not sure if that kind of laser can do that, I just heard of it 15 minutes ago). Don't get me wrong, I get the gist of a lot of important stuff, but if you made me write a high school science exam I would fail spectacularly (I never did very well when I was actually in high school either). Most of my scientific knowledge comes from half-remembered episodes of "The Magic School Bus".

    I've recently taken it upon myself (This past week or so) to learn this stuff, but I'm basically starting from the ground up on every subject. I've arbitrarily begun with chemistry, and have been reading Theodore Gray's "The Elements", I started Sam Kean's "The Disappearing Spoon" and I am familiarizing myself with the periodic table. Also a couple girls I work with took some chem classes in Uni, so I ask them questions, but they don't remember much.

    I'm finding it hard to know where to start, and I'm not sure if I'm doing it "right" (learning things in the proper order), so I've also started poring over science reference books like "100 Important Scientists" and other basic shit like that. I figure The Khan Academy might be a good resource as well.

    And sooooooo:

    Have you ever tried to independently learn this stuff?
    What should I read/watch/listen to?
    Any good websites you can recommend?
    Where should I start? What are the key/basic concepts I should try to learn?
    How much math do I need to know (I have a vague memory of 11th grade math)?

    Any other advice or shared personal experiences would be welcome.

  2. #2
    deplorable basketcase Tellenbach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Forever_Jung
    Where should I start? What are the key/basic concepts I should try to learn?
    1. Structure of the atom. What's an element? What are the different types of chemical bonding and intermolecular forces (hydrogen, van der waals, covalent bonds (sigma and pi bonds), ionic bonds); Electron configurations and periodicity in the periodic chart.
    2. What's a Lewis Acid and Base? What's a Bronsted acid and base?
    3. Chemical equilibrium (What's Le Chatelier's principle? How do you balance a chemical reaction?)
    4. Kinetics (What's the rate determining step? What's the activation energy? What's a first order and second order reaction? What's a catalyst)
    5. Gas Laws (there are a bunch of them)
    6. Chemical reactions (how to determine yield and find the limiting reagent; what's a mole? What's a redox reaction?)
    7. Thermodynamics (what's entropy, enthalpy, endothermic vs exothermic reactions, how to tell if a reaction is spontaneous)
    8. Nomenclature (what are alkanes, alkenes, alkynes, amides, esters, ketones)
    9. Biological molecules (what are proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids)

    How much math do I need to know (I have a vague memory of 11th grade math)?
    For general chemistry, all you need is some basic algebra and what scientific notation is. I would just get a basic chemistry textbook and start reading.

    For some inspiration, go watch Lorenzo's Oil. It's a true story about a banker who learns lipid metabolism (biochemistry) so he can save his son's life.
    Senator Rand Paul is alive because of modern medicine and because his attacker punches like a girl.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Forever_Jung's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tellenbach View Post
    1. Structure of the atom. What's an element? What are the different types of chemical bonding and intermolecular forces (hydrogen, van der waals, covalent bonds (sigma and pi bonds), ionic bonds); Electron configurations and periodicity in the periodic chart.
    2. What's a Lewis Acid and Base? What's a Bronsted acid and base?
    3. Chemical equilibrium (What's Le Chatelier's principle? How do you balance a chemical reaction?)
    4. Kinetics (What's the rate determining step? What's the activation energy? What's a first order and second order reaction? What's a catalyst)
    5. Gas Laws (there are a bunch of them)
    6. Chemical reactions (how to determine yield and find the limiting reagent; what's a mole? What's a redox reaction?)
    7. Thermodynamics (what's entropy, enthalpy, endothermic vs exothermic reactions, how to tell if a reaction is spontaneous)
    8. Nomenclature (what are alkanes, alkenes, alkynes, amides, esters, ketones)
    9. Biological molecules (what are proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids)



    For general chemistry, all you need is some basic algebra and what scientific notation is. I would just get a basic chemistry textbook and start reading.

    For some inspiration, go watch Lorenzo's Oil. It's a true story about a banker who learns lipid metabolism (biochemistry) so he can save his son's life.
    Woo hoo, thank you so much When I win the Nobel Prize in chemistry, I'll give you the cash.

  4. #4
    i love skylights's Avatar
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    There are universities that offer free basic online courses. It may be useful to look into those. The only thing I think you'd be missing out on is the hands on lab experience.

  5. #5
    Analytical Dreamer Coriolis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Forever_Jung View Post
    Dear Science Nerds of TypoC,

    I am scientifically ignorant. I know, I know, I can feel your judgemental gazes burning through me, like a NeHe laser (Not sure if that kind of laser can do that, I just heard of it 15 minutes ago). Don't get me wrong, I get the gist of a lot of important stuff, but if you made me write a high school science exam I would fail spectacularly (I never did very well when I was actually in high school either). Most of my scientific knowledge comes from half-remembered episodes of "The Magic School Bus".
    Well, first of all, it's a HeNe laser, short for Helium Neon, and it's not going to burn through anything. Find a CO2 or Ytterbium fiber laser for that.

    Second, you should ask yourself why you want to learn science, and what you plan to do with that knowledge. If you want to work in a scientific career some day, the preparation you undertake may be different from what you need if you just want to understand basic science for the pleasure of it, and to be a more educated person.

    Quote Originally Posted by Forever_Jung View Post
    Have you ever tried to independently learn this stuff?
    I teach myself scientific material all the time, but then I am a scientist by profession, and no amount of formal education can prepare one for all the projects and subjects one will eventually encounter on the job. Of course it helps to have a good grounding in the basics, on which to build additional knowledge.

    Answers to the next questions depend strongly on which fields of science interest you the most. For instance, I have never had much interest in biology and life sciences, so just took the couple of required courses in university to meet the general education requirement. As you read and study, you will find overlap between fields, and interesting and practical areas that are multidisciplinary. This may send you on scavenger hunts to chemistry, biology, computer science, etc. to fill in gaps and answer questions. Still, it would be helpful to identify one or two areas of particular interest, and start there.

    What should I read/watch/listen to?
    I suggest you find a high school or introductory college level textbook in whatever field you want to study. At minimum it will give you an overview of the field. You can work through it for a basic grounding, or simply use it as a springboard to figure out which particular topics you want to pursue further. Decent newer textbooks will usually recommend outside reading. You can also google terms/subjects of interest.

    Any good websites you can recommend?
    Look for websites by universities, professional societies (e.g. IEEE, American Chemical Society, etc.), or Government agencies (e.g. NASA, NIST). These will in turn link to more websites and usually provide references. For physics, one of my favorites is Hyperphysics at Georgia State Univ. It is well-organized, basic, and comprehensive, with plenty of helpful graphics. Skylights' online course suggestion is excellent as well.

    Where should I start? What are the key/basic concepts I should try to learn?
    Depends on your preferred subject, but focus on learning and understanding concepts rather than getting tied up in mathematical manipulations. If you find a book you are reading too confusing, look for another, or search the confusing topics online.

    How much math do I need to know (I have a vague memory of 11th grade math)?
    Basic algebra,trigonometry, and statistics will get you far. If you know or can learn some calculus, you will be able to DO more problem-solving and data analysis, especially in physics and engineering, but you don't need this simply to understand the underlying concepts. I wouldn't worry about calculus or any other higher math until you run into something that requires it.

    Any other advice or shared personal experiences would be welcome.
    Some of my random favorites in the science world:

    • Carl Sagan: anything, especially the original Cosmos series
    • Stephen Jay Gould: any of his books; the exception to my not liking life science
    • Brian Greene: he had a recent PBS series on quantum mechanics/string theory that was very worthwhile; also, the book "The Elegant Universe"
    • David Macaulay's "The Way Things Work" (has humorous subplot about woolly mammoth)
    • Elizabeth Wood's "Crystals and light"
    • Any physics textbook by Richard Liboff (shows all the math, but unusually good explanations as well)
    I know much of what I have written is rather vague, but "science" as a whole is an enormous topic, and I'd prefer to focus on more specific questions, if you have them. Study of science is the activity of a lifetime, especially when you are not constrained by passing the next exam or course, but can follow your interests and go at your own pace. (Rest assured, my judgmental gaze is reserved for those who don't make the effort. I have only encouragement for those who do.)
    I've been called a criminal, a terrorist, and a threat to the known universe. But everything you were told is a lie. The truth is, they've taken our freedom, our home, and our future. The time has come for all humanity to take a stand...

  6. #6
    Emperor/Dictator kyuuei's Avatar
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    Independent learning is pretty fun! I like Khan Academy, and coursera is another great resource that has professor assistance and forum guidance too.

    I'll be teaching myself chemistry after I finish school, so I'll be there with you eventually I have a great foundation in some sciences, but not all of them necessarily.. and they all play into each other really well.

    My recommendations for subjects to learn, sort of in order:
    - Biology basics
    - Microbiology (it has a LOT of GREAT foundations for more advanced stuff)
    - Anatomy and Physiology basics.
    - Pre-chemistry materials.
    - Elementary physics
    - Pathophysiology (it never EVER hurts anyone ever to know anything about patho)
    - Genetics and current testing methods available

    If you glimpse into those fields, you'll get a good idea of what you might like to pursue on a deeper level.
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  7. #7
    Senior Member Forever_Jung's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Coriolis View Post
    Well, first of all, it's a HeNe laser, short for Helium Neon, and it's not going to burn through anything. Find a CO2 or Ytterbium fiber laser for that.
    Pfft, you scientists and your facts...

    Second, you should ask yourself why you want to learn science, and what you plan to do with that knowledge. If you want to work in a scientific career some day, the preparation you undertake may be different from what you need if you just want to understand basic science for the pleasure of it, and to be a more educated person.
    Well, I have been toying with the idea of getting my bachelor's in Science, and then teaching it at a high school/middle school level. I'm trying to see if I can pick it up before I sign up for classes and wreck my work schedule. I have doubts about my ability to learn it at a University level.

    Chemistry and math are very interesting, but I have a hard time focussing for long stretches of time on things that don't directly involve people. I prefer to just read about scientists and their lives, rather than learn the nitty gritty details of their work.

    I know much of what I have written is rather vague, but "science" as a whole is an enormous topic, and I'd prefer to focus on more specific questions, if you have them. Study of science is the activity of a lifetime, especially when you are not constrained by passing the next exam or course, but can follow your interests and go at your own pace. (Rest assured, my judgmental gaze is reserved for those who don't make the effort. I have only encouragement for those who do.)
    No, no, your reply was as general and broad as my OP, so I think it was perfect. It's kind of a hard question to answer, because "science" is an enormous field. I suppose to start, I just want to know the "essentials", so I can learn those and go from there. Then if something tickles my fancy, I can dive deeper.

    I don't really have specific questions yet, because I don't know enough to have questions. A lot of my confusion with chemistry is mostly just stuff that is too advanced for me to worry about yet. I think I have to build to my answers, you know? Anyway, I do appreciate you taking the time to write. If I have questions in the future, I will probably bug you, if you don't mind

    Quote Originally Posted by kyuuei View Post
    Independent learning is pretty fun! I like Khan Academy, and coursera is another great resource that has professor assistance and forum guidance too.

    I'll be teaching myself chemistry after I finish school, so I'll be there with you eventually I have a great foundation in some sciences, but not all of them necessarily.. and they all play into each other really well.

    My recommendations for subjects to learn, sort of in order:
    - Biology basics
    - Microbiology (it has a LOT of GREAT foundations for more advanced stuff)
    - Anatomy and Physiology basics.
    - Pre-chemistry materials.
    - Elementary physics
    - Pathophysiology (it never EVER hurts anyone ever to know anything about patho)
    - Genetics and current testing methods available

    If you glimpse into those fields, you'll get a good idea of what you might like to pursue on a deeper level.
    Thanks! You just gave me a really nice framework to learn within

  8. #8
    Emperor/Dictator kyuuei's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Forever_Jung View Post
    Thanks! You just gave me a really nice framework to learn within
    No problem! I wish I had learned those things in that order, instead of the arbitrary order I had to use for school. They play well into each other. Biology basics are the barney-style foundation of micro, genetics, A&P, and patho. If you hate it.. then you know you'll probably hate the rest of those. But if you like it! then you have some branches to explore further. Also it's useful because it applies to you--you can feel stuff on your body, see stuff in action, etc. So anything you do learn won't hurt you at all.
    Pre-chem opens the door to chemistry, biochem, organic chem, etc. So if you hate pre-chem, you know those things won't be suitable for you.
    Elementary physics, if you like that, could get you in the back door to A&P in a way (a lot of what makes our body work involves physics), and guide you towards math materials as well.

    Luck with it all whatever you decide to do. I'd be interested in hearing what you end up enjoying.
    Kantgirl: Just say "I'm feminine and I'll punch anyone who says otherwise!"
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  9. #9
    Analytical Dreamer Coriolis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Forever_Jung View Post
    Well, I have been toying with the idea of getting my bachelor's in Science, and then teaching it at a high school/middle school level. I'm trying to see if I can pick it up before I sign up for classes and wreck my work schedule. I have doubts about my ability to learn it at a University level.

    Chemistry and math are very interesting, but I have a hard time focussing for long stretches of time on things that don't directly involve people. I prefer to just read about scientists and their lives, rather than learn the nitty gritty details of their work.
    This already is a start, and helpful information. If your goal is earning a science degree so you can teach, I highly recommend finding a good basic textbook or online course and working through it, following whatever digressions suggest themselves, whether from piqued curiosity or the need to fill in gaps in your knowledge. Have you taken any college-level math or science courses, perhaps as part of another degree program? What is the highest level math you are comfortable with?

    One idea is to go to your local community college and find out what textbooks they use for introductory chemistry, advanced math, or whatever you want to start with. This will give you an idea of how hard (or interesting) the curriculum might be, and would be a good preview should you eventually enroll in the course. Taking the first two years of introductory courses at community college can be much cheaper, and often more convenient as they often cater to part-time, employed, and non-traditional students. If you get serious about the degree part, go have a chat with the department chair (or even look ahead to whatever 4-year college/uni you want to finish at, and go there). These folks are usually very eager to advise newcomers to the field, especially those like you with strong self-motivation.

    As for the people aspect, any chance you could find someone interested in similar subjects who could study with you or compare notes on reading/viewing? That might help. (This made me chuckle since one thing I really enjoy about my work is it doesn't involve people much!)

    In any case, feel free to ask additional questions, either here or by VM/PM.
    I've been called a criminal, a terrorist, and a threat to the known universe. But everything you were told is a lie. The truth is, they've taken our freedom, our home, and our future. The time has come for all humanity to take a stand...

  10. #10
    Member foxonstilts's Avatar
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    kahnacademy.org is a good place to start and get a basic overview of whatever you're interested in. It's a good, basic site to learn things from. Doesn't go past the most basic college-level class, but once you listen to these in whatever topic you're interested in, you can branch out on your own.

    For me, it usually helps to have a topic that I'm interested in. Like, if I feel like learning about dog behavior/evolution, I find something specifically about that. If I want to learn about genetics, I find a book about that (Genome by Matt Ridley is awesome; I'm rereading it now. It's a little outdated, but still awesome).

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