Back-of-the-Envelope Physics

Overview

Physicists use "back-of-the-envelope" estimates to check whether or not an idea could possibly be right. In many cases, the approximate solution is all that is needed. This compilation of 101 examples of back-of-the-envelope calculations celebrates a quantitative approach to solving physics problems. Drawing on a lifetime of physics research and nearly three decades as the editor of The Physics Teacher, Clifford Swartz provides simple, approximate solutions to physics problems that span a broad range of topics. ...

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Back-of-the-Envelope Physics

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Overview

Physicists use "back-of-the-envelope" estimates to check whether or not an idea could possibly be right. In many cases, the approximate solution is all that is needed. This compilation of 101 examples of back-of-the-envelope calculations celebrates a quantitative approach to solving physics problems. Drawing on a lifetime of physics research and nearly three decades as the editor of The Physics Teacher, Clifford Swartz provides simple, approximate solutions to physics problems that span a broad range of topics. What note do you get when you blow across the top of a Coke bottle? Could you lose weight on a diet of ice cubes? How can a fakir lie on a bed of nails without getting hurt? Does draining water in the northern hemisphere really swirl in a different direction than its counterpart below the equator?

In each case, only a few lines of arithmetic and a few natural constants solve a problem to within a few percent. Covering such subjects as astronomy, magnetism, optics, sound, heat, mechanics, waves, and electricity, the book provides a rich source of material for teachers and anyone interested in the physics of everyday life.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

This delightfully broad spectrum of 104 familiar situations, each one or two pages long, includes the terminal velocity of falling objects, fatal impacts during car wrecks, timing to find the distance of lightning strikes, investigating the size and power of binoculars, and the height of Earth's atmosphere... For the well-grounded physics enthusiast.

Physics Today
Physicists young and old should follow Fermi and Swartz and hone a competency for back-of-the-envelope physics.

— Robert K. Adair

Physics World

A physics educator's coffee-table book—a delightful and instructive accessory to an introductory physics course.

Choice

This delightfully broad spectrum of 104 familiar situations, each one or two pages long, includes the terminal velocity of falling objects, fatal impacts during car wrecks, timing to find the distance of lightning strikes, investigating the size and power of binoculars, and the height of Earth's atmosphere... For the well-grounded physics enthusiast.

The Physicist
An entertaining new book Back-of-the-Envelope Physics by Clifford Swartz nicely provides material to assist students (and teachers!) gain experience in handling real-world physics.

— Colin Keay

Physics Today - Robert K. Adair

Physicists young and old should follow Fermi and Swartz and hone a competency for back-of-the-envelope physics.

The Physicist - Colin Keay

An entertaining new book Back-of-the-Envelope Physics by Clifford Swartz nicely provides material to assist students (and teachers!) gain experience in handling real-world physics.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801872631
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 5/15/2003
  • Edition description: 20
  • Pages: 155
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.52 (d)

Meet the Author

Clifford Swartz is a professor emeritus of physics at State University of New York, Stony Brook. He was the editor of The Physics Teacher for twenty-nine years and has written numerous physics texts for students from kindergarten to graduate level. He was the recipient in 2007 of the Melba Newell Phillips Award and in 1987 of the Oersted Medal, the most prestigious award of the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Contents:Preface

Note to the Reader: Units and ApproximationsCHAPTER 1

Force and Pressure

Bed of Nails

Simple Thumbtack

Horsepower

Buoyancy in Air

How Dense Is the Ocean?

Washbowls and Coriolis Force

Points of Contact

Atmospheric Force

Weighing Your Car

Well and Water Tower

Pressure of Sunlight

Squashed Tennis Ball

Recoil

Fatal Impulse

Relative Gravitational Weakness

Strong Fields

Airplane LiftCHAPTER 2

Mechanics and Rotation

Terminal Velocity

The Unlikely Game of Baseball

Human Levers

Angular Momenta

The Twirling Skater

Rotating Water Pail

Grandfather Clock

Arm and Leg Pendulums

Precession of a Bicycle Wheel

Car Springs

Carousels and Rotors

Banked Road

Conical PendulumCHAPTER 3

Sound and Waves

Speed of Sound

Tsunamis and Ripples

Cold Flat Music

Thunder and Lightning

Wavelengths of Familiar Sounds

Scales and Chords

The Sound of Coke

The Sensitive Ear

of Visible Sight

v=c; hv= E

Trains and Doppler ShiftCHAPTER 4

Heat

Human Heaters

Negative Calorie Diet

The Moral of the Tail

Ice Skating

Thermal Expansion

Power Plant EfficiencyCHAPTER 5

Optics

Microscope Constraints

Binocular Size and Power

Seeing under Water

Candle PowerCHAPTER 6

Electricity

Electrostatic Charge on a Balloon

Capacitors

Capacitance of Spheres

Electric Field in a Wire

Electron Drift Speed

Unfamiliar Currents

High Cost of Battery Electricity

Magnet Strength

Matching Earth's B Field

Hanging Wire

Energy Storage in L and C

Jump-Rope Generator

Q of a Crystal Radio

E and B from a Lightbulb

Toaster Power

Magnetic Resonance ImagingCHAPTER 7

Earth

Radius of Earth

Geography and Weight

Height of Atmosphere

Depth of Earth's Gravity Field

Mountain Height

Earth Orbits

Escape Energy from Earth

Precession of the Equinoxes

Hole through the Earth

Slowing of the Earth's Rotation

Mass of Earth's Gravitational FieldCHAPTER 8

Astronomy

Diameter of Sun and Moon

Minimum Distance to Nearest Star

Pressure of Sunlight

How Many Photons to See a Faint Star?

Fueling the Sun

Age of the Elements

The 21 cm Line

The Prodigal SunCHAPTER 9

Atoms and Molecules

All atoms Are (About) the Same Size

Density if Air

Molecular Spacing in a Gas

Molar Energy

Latent Heat of Fusion and Vaporization

Surface Tension

Binding Force between Atoms

Atomic Spring ConstantCHAPTER 10

Particles and Quanta

Uncertainties of Photons and Mesons

Valence Electrons

Can Electrons Reside in the Nucleus?

Lucky Millikan

Nuclear Repulsion

Cyclotron

Synchrotron—Loss and Gain

Quantized Molecular Levels

Molecular Rotation Energy

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Reading Group Guide

If the physical world is to make sense to students (or even to professional scientists, then it must be understandable on the basis of broadly applicable principles and simple communicable reasoning. Long, dry calculations alone will not do, for they are as devoid of insight as they are impenetrable. Here, however, is a book of wide-ranging and aptly chosen topics each brief glimpse conveying its (sometimes surprising! lesson in one page with a short, physically insightful, quantitative argument. This is a book that will help make the study of physics fun and relevant.
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