Mathematical Methods for Physics and Engineering

A Comprehensive Guide


A knowledge of mathematical methods is important for an increasing number of university and college courses, particularly in physics, engineering and chemistry, but also in more general science. Students embarking on such courses come from diverse mathematical backgrounds, and their core knowledge varies considerably. We have therefore decided to write a textbook that assumes knowledge only of material that can be expected to be familiar to all the current generation of students starting physical science courses at university. In the United Kingdom this corresponds to the standard of a single mathematics A-level, whereas in the United States the material assumed is that which would normally be covered at junior college.

Starting from this level, the first six chapters cover a collection of topics with which the reader may already be familiar, but which are here extended and applied to typical problems encountered by first-year university students. They are aimed at providing a common base of general techniques used in the development of the remaining chapters. Students who have had additional preparation, such as Further Mathematics at A-level, will find much of this material straightforward.

Following these opening chapters, the remainder of the book is intended to cover at least that mathematical material which an undergraduate in the physical sciences might encounter up to the end of his or her course. The book is also appropriate for those beginning graduate study with a mathematical content, and naturally much of the material forms parts of courses for mathematics students. Furthermore, the text should provide a useful reference for research workers.

The general aim of the book is to present a topic in three stages. The first stage is a qualitative introduction, wherever possible from a physical point of view. The second is a more formal presentation, although we have deliberately avoided strictly mathematical questions such as the existence of limits, uniform convergence, the interchanging of integration and summation orders, etc. on the grounds that `this is the real world; it must behave reasonably'. Finally a worked example is presented, often drawn from familiar situations in physical science and engineering. These examples have been fully worked, since, in the authors' experience, partially worked examples are unpopular with students. Only in a few cases, where trivial algebraic manipulation is involved, or where repetition of the main text would result, has an example been left as an exercise for the reader. Nevertheless, a number of exercises also appear at the end of each chapter, and these should give the reader ample opportunity to test his or her understanding. Answers to these examples are also provided.

With regard to the presentation of the mathematics, it has to be accepted that many equations (especially partial differential equations) can be written more compactly by using subscripts, e.g. for a second partial derivative, instead of the more familiar , and that this certainly saves typographical space. However, for many students, the labour of mentally unpacking such equations is sufficiently great that it is not possible to think of an equation's physical interpretation at the same time. Consequently, wherever possible we have decided to write out such expressions in their more obvious but longer form.

During the writing of this book we have received much help and encouragement from various colleagues at the Cavendish Laboratory, Clare College, Trinity Hall and Peterhouse. In particular, we would like to thank Peter Scheuer, whose comments and general enthusiasm proved invaluable in the early stages. For reading sections of the manuscript, for pointing out misprints and for numerous useful comments, we thank many of our students and colleagues at the University of Cambridge. We are especially grateful to Chris Doran, John Huber, Garth Leder, Tom Körner and, not least, Mike Stobbs, who, sadly, died before the book was completed. We also extend our thanks to the University of Cambridge and the Cavendish teaching staff, whose examination questions and lecture hand-outs have collectively provided the basis for some of the examples included. Of course, all errors and ambiguities remaining are entirely the responsibility of the authors, and we would be most grateful to have them brought to our attention.

We are indebted to Dave Green for a great deal of advice concerning typesetting in LaTeX and to Andrew Lovatt for various other computing tips. Our thanks also go to Anja Visser and Graça Rocha for enduring many hours of (sometimes heated) debate. At Cambridge University Press, we are very grateful to our editor Adam Black for both help and patience, and we also thank our copy-editor Susan Parkinson for many useful suggestions that have undoubtedly improved the style of the book.

Finally, on a personal note, KFR wishes to thank his wife Penny, not only for a long and happy marriage, but also for her support and understanding during his recent illness - and when things have not gone too well at the bridge table! MPH is indebted both to Rebecca Morris and to his parents for their tireless support and patience, and for their unending supplies of tea. SJB is grateful to Anthony Gritten for numerous relaxing discussions about J. S. Bach and to Kate Isaak for her calming late-night e-mails from the USA.

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Mike Hobson, MRAO, Cavendish Laboratory, Madingley Road. Cambridge, CB3 0HE. U.K.