How best to deal with your gluons

Sear's and Zemansky's University Physics with Modern Physics - Physics - College Physics - University Physics
November 24, 2000

The four "compendium" texts reviewed here provide basic material essential to the study of physics at university level. Two are intended for physics degree courses, the others for the study of physics as an ancillary subject.

Such texts have been available in America for at least 50 years. Recently the choice has grown, in part because of market forces. Physics students in America are generally required to purchase one such text. In addition, many are available in translation. The upshot is that there is a substantial market; it is no accident that most are written by Americans.

Until quite recently, these texts were not used much in British universities because the level was too low and the tradition of teaching from texts was not strong. Lecture courses were generally constructed eclectically according to the interests of the lecturer. A change has occurred over the past few years, due in part to changes in A-level syllabuses (for example, the introduction of modular courses) and to the virtual elimination of student grants, with a consequence that students are more reluctant to purchase textbooks. Many course directors in physics recommend that students buy a specific compendium text rather than a selection of single-subject ones.

Although intended for different markets, the four books cover introductory "core" material for first-year students (mechanics, relativity, introductory thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, waves, physical and geometrical optics, quantum physics and some nuclear physics). The strong competition between publishers has helped to create a generally high standard. They are large (one at 700 pages, the others more than 1,000 pages), well written, profusely illustrated, with worked examples and homework problems and answers.

A feature is the use of sections on "problem-solving strategies", which are part of the recommendations of the physics education reform movement. This movement arose through discussions of pedagogical techniques in the American Physical Society and associated bodies.

The texts show the increasing use of offers of supplementary material for students and instructors, such as "instructor's resource manuals", sets of questions in printed form or on CD-Roms or discs, sets of overhead transparencies, videotapes and web-based resources.

The four books differ in the amount of prerequisite mathematics and in the mathematics they cover. Selection of appropriate texts by university course committees is likely to depend strongly on this. Therefore, students should not purchase a compendium text without checking with their tutors that it is appropriate in terms of nomenclature and coverage.

More trivially, no two of the four use the same vector notation. Sears and Zemansky's University Physics with Modern Physics is the product of half a century of development from the first edition of University Physics in 1949. In recent years, Hugh Young and Roger Freeman have done an excellent job of periodic updating. It is rigorous and includes calculus-based physics; some large UK physics departments already recommend it to their students. However, coverage of the use of complex numbers is limited to half a page.

Ronald Lane Reese's University Physics is a newcomer to the range and is mathematically the most demanding, making it more appropriate for most UK courses. There are, for example, several pages devoted to the use of complex numbers. Reese is in tune with the spirit of many reform goals: stronger emphasis on fundamental principles, conceptual understanding and unifying concepts; making allowance for different learning styles and better integration of modern physics topics. One can only applaud this. It comes as a stimulating surprise to see the vector bosons and gluons dealt with in the chapter on Newton's laws of motion. I hope the experiment works. Course directors should take note; it will suggest ways for the development of undergraduate teaching.

The remaining texts provide introductory physics courses for those majoring in other subjects. Physics: A World View is for "students majoring in fields other than science, mathematics or engineering". It uses no calculus or complex numbers and makes only limited use of algebra. It is, however, the only one of the four that gives any explicit treatment of Coriolis forces, albeit sketchily. General relativity and unification also make an appearance. The book provides a good introduction to physics for students of the arts or humanities.

Similarly, Raymond Serway and Jerry Faughn's College Physics is not intended for physicists but for students studying topics as varied as biology and architecture. Again, there is no use of calculus. The book is accompanied by four CD-Roms, three of which are "Saunders core concepts in college physics", the remaining one being linked directly to the text. I found the last to be attractively compiled and easy to use. It raises the possibility of introducing more young people, skilled in computer games, to the subject; and it reduces the barriers to acquiring a sound knowledge of physics for non-specialists.

Trevor Bacon is senior research fellow, Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College, University of London.

Sear's and Zemansky's University Physics with Modern Physics: Tenth edition

Author - Hugh Young and Roger Freeman
ISBN - 0 201 70059 X
Publisher - Addison Wesley
Price - £28.99
Pages - 1,513

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