Shape of things to come

12th September 1997 at 01:00
Physics. By Ken Dobson, David Graceand David Lovett. Collins Pounds 24. 99.

Physics A-level textbooks have evolved tremendously over the past few years and this book has come further than most. It transcends the notion of tacking an application on to the end of a chapter - "real life" physics forms the bedrock for the book and this gives it a very different feel.

With most books, select a chapter on motion and you might expect Newton, followed by laws and equations of motion, ending with sample calculations. Not here. Look at things from the student's point of view. Motion means travel - to the stars, across oceans. So Physics starts with light years, triangulation and global positioning satellite systems. Traditional theory respectfully follows and is still covered thoroughly. This pattern is repeated throughout.

The book is divided into 19 chapters covering the core A-level syllabus, with additional chapters on some of the more popular options, for example, medical physics and cosmology. This could cut down on the cost per student.

Chapters start with an eclectic selection of items, such as how to freeze-dry coffee. Main theory, extension and feature sections are followed by summaries, questions and assignments. One assignment explores why mountains are almost three times higher on Mars than on Earth. Others involve an imaginative use of computers. Throughout the book there is a sense that the frontier is just around the corner - the Higgs boson, Hubble pictures.

There is good use of colour in the clear diagrams and excellent photographs, for example scanning electron micrographs. But by its own admission this is not a practical book and students may need additional materials to cover practical work.

Physics is accessible and provides an excellent resource for students and particularly for staff. More than that, it conveys the excitement and immediacy of physics today and how it shapes people's lives.

Helen Reynolds Helen Reynolds is head of physics at Gosford Hill School, Kidlington, Oxfordshire

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