Berkeley Physics Course

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The Berkeley Physics Course is a series of physics textbooks written mostly by UC Berkeley professors. The series consists of the following five volumes, each of which was originally used over the course of one semester 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 this level. Half a century later, the book is still in print, as Purcell and Morin. The 3rd edition of the text, published by Cambridge University Press in 2013, was completely revised and updated to the SI units.[2]

A Sputnik-era project funded by an NSF 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 College 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 course that also arose in the atmosphere of urgency about science education created in the West by Sputnik. Because of the government support received, the original editions contain 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 laboratory course developed by Alan Portis.[4]

Although the course was influential in physics education, the book series sold better in foreign markets than in the U.S., possibly because students in other countries specialized earlier and were therefore better prepared mathematically than students in the U.S.[5] The series was translated into a number of foreign languages. 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 been hindered by the choice of Gaussian units, and later editions of volumes 1 and 2 were eventually published with the Gaussian system replaced by the SI.


  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