Authors: Charles H. Holbrow, James N. Lloyd, Joseph C. Amato, Enrique Galvez and M. Elizabeth Parks
Studying physics can seem at times like an exercise in delayed gratification. The cutting-edge, mind-expanding ideas that attract students to study the subject are rarely tackled in the undergraduate syllabus until halfway through the first year or even later. This book represents an attempt to bring modern physics to day one of an undergraduate course. It contains a one-semester journey through atomic physics, from the atomic interpretation of temperature to quantum entanglement, delivered at a level suitable for first-year students.
Atomic physics is a broad subject, and the strength of this book's treatment is that atoms are used to link seemingly disparate branches of physics, enabling undergraduates to develop a more coherent understanding of the field. The first part of the text links the behaviour and structure of atoms to classical concepts; using kinetic theory to explain temperature, and the behaviour of gases, electricity and magnetism to explain viscosity and atomic structure. Then the discussion turns to the wave nature of light, encompassing diffraction, spectroscopy and special relativity, before returning to the idea of wave-particle duality, radioactivity, energy-level quantisation and quantum mechanics. Each subject occupies a chapter and every relevant concept is described in a section that contains many exercises and worked examples to allow students to practise applying the ideas they have just read about.
Following a helpful summary of the material covered, longer problems are given at the end of each chapter. Tables of representative data are given for students to plot and see relationships for themselves, and could form the basis of laboratory work associated with an undergraduate module. The layout is clear and contains many illustrative figures.
The authors aim to give an overview of these topics at a level suitable for students undergoing the transition from school to university. They choose to give less precise explanations where they feel this will enhance intuitive understanding, include little calculus, and concentrate instead on developing qualitative reasoning and estimation. These are admirable intentions. Unfortunately, some explanations are ambiguous, and without the underlying maths to quantify a concept students could easily become confused. The conversational style the authors adopt can exacerbate the problem.
I found the mixture of fact and historical investigation in the text frustrating, as were some explanations and the general lack of quantification. For this reason, I urge prospective buyers to read the text and judge the balance for themselves. There are other more comprehensive and quantitative surveys of this material available, as well as specialist textbooks that would be better suited to accompany an undergraduate course. But I recommend this book as a brave attempt to inject modern physics into the very start of undergraduate life.
Who is it for? First-year undergraduates or advanced A-level students seeking extra material.
Presentation: Clear layout on page, conversational style, but light on mathematical rigour.
Would you recommend it? Yes, as a library acquisition to provide students with an alternative viewpoint and a pool of practice questions, but not as a sole set text.
Particle Physics: A Beginner's Guide
Author: Brian R. Martin