Physics is fascinating. But many physics teachers and books are boring. I always dreamt of writing the physics textbook that I wanted to learn from when I was young: a book that conveys fascination and excitement, wonder and thrill, and that motivates the reader to explore the subject even further. After more than 20 years, the present, 25th edition is approaching that goal. The main edition is the set of free pdf files with colour images, embedded movies, clickable cross-references and live internet links. A paper edition in black & white and a first e-book version are also available.
The infrastructure for the publication and the distribution of the book is supported by a charitable non-profit association, the Motion Mountain Physikverein. The association works under the control of the German tax authorities. Your donation to the association, however small, is welcome! It will be used to improve the book and its distribution. Your donation is tax-deducible according to German law. For details, click here. For ways to help the project in other ways click here. Thank you in advance, also in the name of all readers! Contact me at email@example.com.
Paper and e-book version
All volumes are also available, printed in black and white, on paper, here on lulu.com. They are printed on demand and delivered directly to the address you specify. The paper version is in black and white because on-demand colour printing is extremely expensive.
A colour paper version will be organized with a traditional book publisher as soon as the project is finished.
First attempts of e-book versions, in epub format, of volumes I, IV and V are available at Lulu. These are older editions, produced by Lulu, and are now free of any digital rights management (DRM). At present, I have no way to make epubs myself (maybe you can help?). I plan to produce updated ebooks as soon as epub will be as beautiful as pdf. (Epub is an HTML dialect.) Some epub formats, see for example some of those found in the epubzengarden, start to be readable. Still, translating latex to MathML is really hard.
Aim of the project
Across all languages, physics is the science with the least appealing textbooks. This project wants to change this, by producing a simple, captivating and up-to-date introduction to modern physics. 'Simple' means that concepts are stressed more than formalism. 'Captivating' means that the reader is continuously entertained, motivated and challenged. 'Up-to-date' means that modern research results are included. The subtitle of the text, The Adventure of Physics, sums up these three aspects.
The approach starts with an uncommon, but clear definition of physics: physics is the science of motion. The project then takes the search for a precise description of motion as a guiding principle for an exploration of modern physics. This leads to a storyline that differs from the one found in usual physics texts. Nature's limits to speed, entropy, force, action and charge are central to the presentation.
Status and plan
The book has been an unexpected success: it is read across the world and used in many schools and universities. Since the volumes are now approaching their final versions, the plan for the future is to improve the reading experience and to add the topics that are still missing. Stay tuned.
The editions in other languages still need support. If you want to help translating, click here for details on how to do it and then let me know!
The first e-book versions for a few volumes can be found at the shop. They need more work.
And maybe, one day, as described here, LaTeX will evolve into an even better typesetting system.
The text tells a story to enjoy - and to learn from.
The text tells a story: it does not need an accompanying lecture. The text provides ideas, facts images and questions: it does not need accompanying computer programs, video tutors, java applets or other toys. The text is written for enjoyable learning; thus it is not a commented formula collection. In fact, the text is not meant to be read on screen, or on tablet PCs, but on paper. (Simply print it.) Computer screens are bad for learning. Reading on paper, and thus self-study, is the best way to learn. Beware of any teacher who tells you the opposite! More precisely, the best way to learn is, after having seen, listened or read, to re-picture and re-tell - aloud or at least in your mind - at your own pace.
To make the reading enjoyable and productive, the text satisfies
six different needs:
1. The explanations are written in a way that appeal both to people who prefer thinking in images and to those who prefer thinking in words. (Most physicists and most physics teachers think in images, and thus are inintelligible to the majority of students that think in words.)
2. The content has been selected to attract both male and female readers. (Most physicists are men and fail to motivate female students.)
3. The text is written to appeal to composer and to competitor characters.
4. The text caters both for the experimentally and the theoretically inclined. (In these two aspects, most physicists are one-sided.)
5. The story appeals to those who like the natural sciences and to those who like the humanities. (Most physics teachers neglect the humanities.)
6. The story motivates, entertains and startles both beginners and experts in physics. (Most texts fail here.)
Since its start, the website is dedicated to my brothers Stephan and Philipp Schiller. The text itself is dedicated to my own family.
Motto – and lies
The motto of the text, 'Die Menschen stärken, die Sachen klären', translates as 'To fortify people, to clarify things'. The motto has direct consequences for the presentation. Many people send email requests that certain statements should be inserted into the text. Here are some examples:
"Astrology holds" - "creation did occur" - "perpetuum mobiles are possible" - "vacuum is an energy source" - "physics was invented by the Mayas/some other people" - "theists/pantheists/atheists/polytheists are evil" - "energy speeds faster than light exist" - "telepathy is possible" - "there are things that cannot be measured" - "particles are membranes" - "more than three spatial dimensions exist" - "quantum theory implies many worlds" - "there are no measurement limits" - "infinite quantities exist in nature" - "supersymmetry is valid" - "a multiverse exists" - "mind is stronger than matter" - etc.
These and other false statements are spread by certain media and, sadly, by certain scientists. (Somebody even offered a considerable sum of money if I include such statements.) But the motto of the text implies that statements that are false or nonsense are labelled as such – if they are entertaining enough to deserve being mentioned.
Edition 25.4, of March/June 2013, adds amazing animations proving the spin-statistics theorem (watch them here), explains what sneezing has to do with molecular motors, how to use electrodynamics to find out the number you are thinking of, and how to use topology and a pencil to entertain a party.
Edition 25.3, of November 2012, explains how nature places the heart almost always on the left side of the body, tells about the 10^16 motors that are part of the human body, explains how to measure the speed of the grim reaper, includes the latest results from the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva and their consequences for the search for unification, shows how well-sounding plastic violins can be built with the help of lasers, explains the three international light bulb scams of the past 20 years, and includes a fascinating video of an explosion of the Sun. Volume V has been reworked and expanded; many pictures have been added.
The 25th edition, of Spring 2012, explains how cosmic rays can stop high speed trains, presents the recent discovery of galactic bubbles, adds a photograph of lightning hitting a tree, tells how the water of the oceans arrived on Earth, adds some stunning X-ray images, presents a way to see the fine structure constant with the naked eye, presents the dawdling principle of special relativity, and includes a spectacular green laser delay line. The text now presents the art of laying rope, the fascination of water waves, the connection between energy consumption and death, adds a movie of the stars orbiting the black hole at the centre of our galaxy, presents the enteric nervous system, adds various scanning imaging techniques, explains the dangers of aeroplane toilets, introduces the tricky sides of three-dimensional interferometers, explores the Poynting vector field for a cable and a transformer, and tells many other interesting stories about motion of radiation and of objects. Many new images have been added.
The 24th edition, of July 2010, now also explains why it makes sense to choose a zig-zag path when climbing steep mountains, how you can visualize the wave function and understand quantum mechanics, what the jumping height of various animals is, how the belt trick or scissor trick saves lives, how you can measure the curvature of space in your own home, why the moguls on skiing slopes move upwards, and that your eyes are full of optical fibres. The text also tells the story of the biggest disappointment of the television industry in the twentieth century.
The 23rd edition, of October 2009, includes new films on the relativistic effects due to aberration and accelerated motion, new films on the motion of wave functions in quantum theory, and over 100 new colour photographs. The text now tells how yellow light improves tomato sales and pink light reduces crime, it presents the still unexplained experiences of apnoea divers, it explains why wearing sunglasses can transform humans into apes, it tells about the recently discovered natural quasicrystals, it explains nerve pulses as a mixture of sound and current, it describes the wake behind ducks, swans and ships, it explains why ultrasound imaging is not safe for a foetus, it adds the relativistic circular train puzzle, it explains how to prove the invariance of the speed of light by looking at the sky, it gives details about the solar spectrum, it presents the 'floating bed' puzzle, it tells about a measured version of the Unruh effect called the Sokolov-Ternov effect, it explains how to measure the power of the Sun with closed eyes, it gives the ideal shape of skateboard half-pipes, and it estimates the total length of all capillaries in the human body.
The 22nd edition, of January 2009, adds over 50 new illustrations, explains how it is possible to plunge a bare hand into molten lead, includes a film of an oscillating quartz inside a watch, explains how it is possible to type a letter by controlling a computer with thought alone, includes a film of a solar flare, explains the fifteen ways that colours appear in rocks plants and animals, explains the connection between cats and gauge theory, adds more ways in which the human eye invents colours that are not there, includes a list of laser types and applications, includes many images of crystals, explains how physics Plotinus and christianity come together to show that the universe and god are one and the same, adds the handcuff puzzle and several other puzzles, explains how jet pilots frighten civilians with sonic superbooms produced by fighter planes, presents the most beautiful and precise sundial available today, adds a simple photographic proof that the Earth is larger than the Moon, improves the presentation of elementary particle physics, adds a photo of a red rainbow, gives the latest discoveries on the Galileo trial, presents a fascinating mathematical aspect of Ohm's law, states the hardest open math problem that you can explain to your grandmother, and much more.
The 21st edition, of December 2007, adds over one hundred new figures and tables, numerous explanations, and many examples from animals, plants and machines. The text now explains why the speed of light is too slow to speculate with success on the stock exchange, adds the second-level bear fur colour puzzle and the young mother puzzle, presents the nearest place with a pressure permanently lower than that of the atmosphere, adds the puzzle about the horse and the snail on a rubber, tells more about metamaterials, adds some simple chemical puzzles, presents what incredible things on atomic layers one can discover using a pencil and sticky tape, tells more on biological rhythms and clocks, explains how to observe the rotation of the Earth in any classroom after two seconds of observation, shows an electric effect observed on many playgrounds, shows the beauty of bursting soap bubbles and bouncing tennis balls, explains how it is possible to observe the motion of single, isolated electrons, and tells how to build the simplest possible radio control system.
The 20th edition, of January 2007, adds a dozen animations and films: generation and motion of electromagnetic waves, leap-frogging vortex rings, jumping snakes, the propagation of solitons and dromions, growing ice crystals, rotating atomic orbitals, the actin-myosin system in muscles in action, and Dirac's belt trick. The edition also introduces robots that walk on water, explains how to observe the polarization of light with the unaided human eye in the same way as honey bees do, shows how to produce floating plasma clouds similar to ball lightning, tells more about the Galilean satellites, mentions the world records for running backwards and the attempts to break the speed sailing record, tells in more detail how to learn from books with as little effort as possible, presents the polarized car headlight problem and many other puzzles.
The project to pass on the best stories known about physics started in 1990, in Yokohama. The website was set up in November 1997. Updates appear a few times per year.
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