Sahakian and Helliwell publish Forward-looking Physics Textbook

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Vatche Sahakian, professor of physics, and Thomas Helliwell, professor and dean emeritus, are co-authors of the book Modern Classical Mechanics published by Cambridge University Press.

Modern Classical Mechanics is a forward-looking physics text that shows the deep connections between classical (Lagrangian) mechanics and modern research in theoretical physics. In this textbook, Helliwell and Sahakian present classical mechanics as a thriving and contemporary field with strong connections to cutting-edge research topics in physics.

“Tom and I had taught the material in this textbook over several decades, using independently our own lecture notes,” Sahakian says. “The courses we taught were very well received, so we decided to put together a textbook that combines our lecture notes—given that a lot of the material we had developed was original.”

This textbook’s approach aims to connect classical mechanics with modern physics, including special and general relativity and quantum mechanics, and other areas of contemporary research. Each part of the book concludes with a capstone chapter describing various key topics in quantum mechanics, general relativity and other areas of modern physics, demonstrating how they relate to advanced classical mechanics and enabling students to appreciate the central importance of classical mechanics within contemporary fields of research.

The textbook uses numerous and detailed examples interwoven with the theoretical content to illustrate the abstract concepts more concretely. In addition, each chapter concludes with an extensive problem set to further reinforce students’ understanding of key concepts and provide opportunities for assessment or self-testing.

For instructors, the text has a detailed, online solutions manual and lecture slides to accompany the material. A flexible approach is often required when teaching advanced classical mechanics, and, to facilitate this, Sahakian and Helliwell have outlined several paths instructors and students can follow through the book, depending on background knowledge and course length.

The textbook was published in digital format in November 2020 and was used in HMC physics Professor Brian Shuve’s fall 2020 Theoretical Mechanics (Physics 111) course. The physical copy of the book was released in January 2021.

Peter Lapage, a physics professor at Cornell University, wrote in an online review, “’Helliwell and Sahakian redefine the classical mechanics textbook. Ample coverage of classical theory is connected to modern ideas of general relativity and quantum physics throughout the text in the choice of topics and examples. I would have loved this book as a student for its breadth and sophistication.”

“So far, two months since the book’s release, the reception has been very positive: we are told that our book is currently the most requested book—among Cambridge University Press’ list of requested adoption copies from instructors—across all subject areas,” Sahakian says.

Modern Classical Mechanics is available from Cambridge University Press.