Special Relativity

Special Relativity

By: Thomas M. Helliwell

Publication date: July 2009
ISBN: 9781891389610
Subject: Physics

Written in an clear and informal style, this text explores the most accessible of the 20th century revolutions in physics. It allows readers to build up physical intuition for what is going on, before presenting concise mathematical descriptions. It contains many applications, ten appendices, and numerous illustrations, examples and problems.

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Title information

Special Relativity is a superb text for students to begin or continue a serious study of physics. Describing the most accessible of the 20th-century revolutions, it also illustrates the fact that nature is stranger than one imagines. The book evolved through years of teaching a highly-successful course to thousands of first-year students in science and engineering. It is appropriate as part of an introductory physics course, as a supplement to a “modern physics” course, as a text for a special topics or advanced placement course, or even as a supplement in an advanced undergraduate course. Numerous illustrations, examples, and problems are presented throughout, with the concise mathematical description postponed until after the reader has built up some physical intuition for what is going on. The book contains many applications, from particle decays, colliding-beam experiments and photon rockets to a brief introduction to relativistic gravitation, including the Principle of Equivalence, the effect of altitude on clocks, and the Global Positioning System. Ten appendices can be taken up as interest and time allow, including the “Cosmic Speed Limit.” The book is a serious introduction, praised for its clarity, accessibility, and informal, light-hearted style.  A detailed Solutions Manual is available for adopting professors.

An online Instructor’s Manual is available exclusively for adopting professors.

Translated into Japanese.

Pages: 322
Language: English
Publisher: University Science Books
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1. Inertial Frames and Classical Mechanics

2. Light and the Ether

3. Einstein's Postulates

4. Time Dilation

5. Lengths

6. Simultaneity

7. Paradoxes

8. The Lorentz Transformation

9. Spacetime

10. Momentum

11. Energy

12. Applications

13. Transforming Energy and Momentum

14. Gravitation


A.  The Binomial Approximation

B. The "Paradox" of Light-Spheres

C. The  Appearance of Moving Objects

D. The Twin Paradox Revisited

E. The "Cosmic Speed Limit:"

F. "Relativistic Mass" and Relativistic Forces

G. The Ultimate Relativistic Spaceflight

H. Nuclear Decays, Fission and Fusion

I. Some Particles

J. Relativity and Electromagnetism

Answers to Odd-Numbered Problems


“Judging from his book, Helliwell must be a fine teacher. He achieves a rare clarity. For instance, the derivation of the standard kinematic results starting from Einstein’s postulates is outstandingly clear. Throughout, he shows an unusual and sympathetic appreciation of the problems faced by the beginning student.”
-John Taylor, University of Colorado

“Helliwell’s book strikes a tone that will be very effective with a wide population of students. The writing is very accessible and conveys excitement and engagement. The problems are abundant, and students will enormously appreciate the carefully worked examples throughout.  This text chooses a middle road and has a “practical flavor” that is often obscured in other books.”
-Louis Buchholtz, California State University at Chico

“Special Relativity by Helliwell is a very well written book that should be easy for the students to read and understand without much help from the instructor.  The topics are very clearly explained with a lot of detail and clear illustrations.  This book is definitely much better than the books I have read on this topic, and I would recommend it to any instructor who plans to teach a course on special relativity.  For anyone teaching special relativity as a part of a Modern Physics course, this book offers valuable supplementary reading.”
-Shirvel Stanislaus, Valparaiso University

Thomas M. Helliwell

Thomas M. Helliwell is Burton Bettingen Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at Harvey Mudd College. He received his B.A. from Pomona College and his Ph.D. at Caltech, where his thesis was on atomic physics and quantum mechanics. He has published more than 40 research papers, many with undergraduate coauthors, in quantum mechanics and general relativity. He has taught a wide variety of undergraduate courses, from beginning to advanced, in classical mechanics, special and general relativity, quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, and electromagnetism. He has also served as director of the freshman division, chair of the physics department, chair of the faculty, and dean of faculty.