Berkeley Physics Course

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The Berkeley Physics Course is a series of college-level physics textbooks written mostly by UC Berkeley professors.


The series consists of the following five volumes, each of which was originally used in a one-semester course at Berkeley:

  1. Mechanics by Charles Kittel, et al.[1]
  2. Electricity and Magnetism by Edward M. Purcell
  3. Waves by Frank S. Crawford, Jr.
  4. Quantum physics by Eyvind H. Wichmann
  5. Statistical Physics by Frederick Reif

Volume 2, Electricity and Magnetism, by Purcell (Harvard), is particularly well known, and was influential for its use of relativity in the presentation of the subject at the introductory college level. Half a century later the book is still in print, in an updated version by authors Purcell and Morin. The third edition of the text, published by Cambridge University Press in 2013, was completely revised and updated to SI units.[2]


A Sputnik-era project funded by a National Science Foundation grant, the course arose from discussions between Philip Morrison (then at Cornell University) and Charles Kittel (Berkeley) in 1961, and was published by McGraw-Hill starting in 1965. The Berkeley course was contemporary with The Feynman Lectures on Physics (a college course at a similar mathematical level), and PSSC Physics (a high school introductory course). These physics courses were all developed in the atmosphere of urgency about science education created in the West by Sputnik.

Because of the government support received, the original editions contained notices on their copyright pages stating that the books were to be available royalty-free after five years. The authors got lump-sum payments but did not receive royalties.[3] There was a parallel series of laboratory courses developed by Alan Portis.[4]

The series was translated into a number of foreign languages.[which?][when?] Although the course was influential in physics education worldwide, the book series sold better in foreign markets than in the US, possibly because students in other countries specialized earlier and were therefore better prepared mathematically than US students.[5] It was felt to be too advanced for typical engineering students at Berkeley, but continued to be used there in honors courses for physics majors. Adoption may have also been hindered by the choice of Gaussian units of measurement, and later editions of volumes 1 and 2 were eventually published with the Gaussian system replaced by SI units.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lewis, J. A. (May 7, 1965). "Mechanics: Berkeley Physics Course". Science. 148 (3671): 813–814. doi:10.1126/science.148.3671.813-b. JSTOR 1716383. 
  2. ^ "Electricity and Magnetism, 3rd edition". Cambridge University Press. Retrieved July 8, 2014. 
  3. ^ A. Carl Helmholtz, "Faculty governance and physics at the University of California, Berkeley, 1937-1990 : oral history transcript / 1993"
  4. ^ A.M. Portis, The Berkeley Physics Laboratory, in New trends in physics teaching, v. 1, 1965-1966, Unesco.
  5. ^ Helmholtz