Modern Classical Physics: Optics, Fluids, Plasmas, Elasticity, Relativity, and Statistical Physics

Modern Classical Physics: Optics, Fluids, Plasmas, Elasticity, Relativity, and Statistical Physics

Author: Kip S. Thorne and Roger D. Blandford

Publisher: Princeton University Press


Publish Date: September 5, 2017

ISBN-10: 0691159025

Pages: 1557

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

The study of physics (including astronomy) is one of the oldest academic enterprises. Remarkable surges in inquiry occurred in equally remarkable societies—in Greece and Egypt, in Mesopotamia, India and China—and especially in Western Europe from the late sixteenth century onward. Independent, rational inquiry flourished at the expense of ignorance, superstition, and obeisance to authority. Physics is a constructive and progressive discipline, so these surges left behind layers of understanding derived from careful observation and experiment, organized by fundamental principles and laws that provide the foundation of the discipline today. Meanwhile the detritus of bad data and wrong ideas has washed away. The laws themselves were so general and reliable that they provided foundations for investigation far beyond the traditional frontiers of physics, and for the growth of technology.

The start of the twentieth century marked a watershed in the history of physics, when attention turned to the small and the fast. Although rightly associated with the names of Planck and Einstein, this turning point was only reached through the curiosity and industry of their many forerunners. The resulting quantum mechanics and relativity occupied physicists for much of the succeeding century and today are viewed very differently from each other. Quantum mechanics is perceived as an abrupt departure from the tacit assumptions of the past, while relativity—though no less radical conceptually—is seen as a logical continuation of the physics of Galileo, Newton, and Maxwell. There is no better illustration of this than Einstein’s growing special relativity into the general theory and his famous resistance to the quantum mechanics of the 1920s, which others were developing.

This is a book about classical physics—a name intended to capture the prequantum scientific ideas, augmented by general relativity. Operationally, it is physics in the limit that Planck’s constant h→0. Classical physics is sometimes used, pejoratively, to suggest that “classical” ideas were discarded and replaced by new principles and laws. Nothing could be further from the truth. The majority of applications of physics today are still essentially classical. This does not imply that physicists or others working in these areas are ignorant or dismissive of quantum physics. It is simply that the issues with which they are confronted are mostly addressed classically. Furthermore, classical physics has not stood still while the quantumworld was being explored. In scope and in practice, it has exploded on many fronts and would now be quite unrecognizable to a Helmholtz, a Rayleigh, or a Gibbs. In this book, we have tried to emphasize these contemporary developments and applications at the expense of historical choices, and this is the reason for our seemingly oxymoronic title, Modern

Classical Physics.

This book is ambitious in scope, but to make it bindable and portable (and so the authors could spend some time with their families), we do not develop classical mechanics, electromagnetic theory, or elementary thermodynamics. We assume the reader has already learned these topics elsewhere, perhaps as part of an undergraduate curriculum. We also assume a normal undergraduate facility with applied mathematics. This allows us to focus on those topics that are less frequently taught in undergraduate and graduate courses.

Another important exclusion is numerical methods and simulation. Highperformance computing has transformedmodern research and enabled investigations that were formerly hamstrung by the limitations of special functions and artificially imposed symmetries. To do justice to the range of numerical techniques that have been developed—partial differential equation solvers, finite elementmethods,Monte Carlo approaches, graphics, and so on—would have more than doubled the scope and size of the book. Nonetheless, because numerical evaluations are crucial for physical insight, the book includes many applications and exercises in which user-friendly numerical packages (such as Maple, Mathematica, and Matlab) can be used to produce interesting numerical results without toomuch effort.We hope that, via this pathway from fundamental principle to computable outcome, our book will bring readers not only physical insight but also enthusiasm for computational physics. Classical physics as we develop it emphasizes physical phenomena on macroscopic scales: scales where the particulate natures of matter and radiation are secondary to their behavior in bulk; scales where particles’ statistical—as opposed to individual—properties are important, and where matter’s inherent graininess can be smoothed over.

In this book, we take a journey through spacetime and phase space; through statistical and continuum mechanics (including solids, fluids, and plasmas); and through optics and relativity, both special and general. In our journey, we seek to comprehend the fundamental laws of classical physics in their own terms, and also in relation to quantumphysics. And, using carefully chosen examples, we show how the classical laws are applied to important, contemporary, twenty-first-century problems and to everyday phenomena; andwe alsouncover some deep relationships among the various fundamental laws and connections among the practical techniques that are used in different subfields of physics.

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