Starflight for Physics Tutors

Good source of material for a physics tutor

Students I have tutored in physics get exposed to some of my favourite topics in their classes. Unfortunately, those topics are usually taught with uninspiring examples. This need not be the case.

I recently scheduled some events labelled “Read for Pleasure” into my calendar. It may sound sad that I had to do that but nearly everything I read these days is selected for its utility. The book I chose for my “task” was The Starflight Handbook: A Pioneer’s Guide to Interstellar Travel by Eugene Mollove and Gregory Matloff. This book has been on one of my shelves for well over a decade, prominently placed to prevent me from forgetting about it.

At only about a third of the way into the book, the parts I have read so far include specific impulse, the rocket equation, the staging principle, ion engines, fission rockets, fusion rockets, antimatter rockets, relativistic considerations, pulsed propulsion, fusion micro-explosions, Rayleigh’s criteria, and several variants of beamed propulsion. I was already very familiar with these ideas but it was refreshing to fill my head with them again. One idea that was new to me was that of using Lorentz force turning to convert an otherwise one-way interstellar voyage into a round-trip one. Why didn’t I think of that?

This book is too advanced and specialized for use as a primary physics text in high school or the first year of university but, as a private tutor, I intend to use it to illustrate what can be done with such core concepts as impulse, momentum, energy, circular motion, electromagnetism, and optics. The Starflight Handbook lacks the formal mathematical treatment of its subjects that one would find in a celestial mechanics textbook because it is not intended to be one. However, unlike books written to simply popularize science, this one is sprinkled with “Technical Notes” that provide the mathematical basis for a physics tutor to use it for teaching.

The Starflight Handbook covers many of the same ideas as the much newer Entering Space by Bob Zubrin but the latter book’s lack of mathematical content makes it less suitable for my needs. Aside from the fact that I can find a professional use for this book, it really is a joy to read.

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2 Responses to Starflight for Physics Tutors

  1. Norma says:

    What a talented teacher you are Brian….Nx

    • Brian says:

      Thank you, Norma. If nothing else, using alternative material keeps the material fresh for me. Otherwise I could easily get into a rut. It would definitely not be acceptable for students to ever suspect that I was bored.

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