Matter & Interactions

A Modern Perspective on Calculus-Based Introductory Physics

Matter & Interactions is a textbook by Ruth Chabay and Bruce Sherwood that emphasizes a modern perspective on the calculus-based introductory physics curriculum taken by engineering and science students. It engages students in:

Starting analyses from fundamental principles rather than from secondary formulas.
Making macro-micro connections, based on the atomic nature of matter.
Modeling physical systems: making idealizations, simplifying assumptions, estimates.
Constructing computational models to predict the time evolution of system behavior.

20th century physics and a contemporary perspective are integrated throughout the curriculum.

Volume 1: Modern Mechanics

Modern Mechanics emphasizes the atomic nature of matter and integrates traditional mechanics with thermal physics to provide a more coherent and contemporary perspective on the subject. There is strong emphasis on a small number of fundamental principles: the Momentum Principle (Newton's form of Newton's second law), the Energy Principle (which subsumes the first law of thermodynamics), the Angular Momentum Principle, and the fundamental assumption of statistical mechanics, which leads to the second law of thermodynamics. The ball-and-spring model of solids plays a crucial role. Photon emission and absorption in quantized systems is included.

Volume 2: Electric & Magnetic Interactions

Electric and Magnetic Interactions builds on the atomic nature of matter and the treatment of electric force and energy in Modern Mechanics with the addition of the field concept, Maxwell's equations, and the role of electrons in conductors and insulators. A thorough treatment of the effects of fields on atomic matter makes it possible to unify the analysis of electrostatics and circuits. The climax is the classical interaction of light and matter, followed by a discussion of the contrast between this wave picture and the photon picture developed in Modern Mechanics.

Full-color 3rd edition

The 3rd edition, published in January 2010, is the first to feature full color, which makes diagrams easier to understand. It includes a much larger selection of end-of-chapter problems, more numerical examples and problems to complement symbolic ones, improvements in the treatments of computational modeling, angular momentum, the effect of electric fields on matter, and electromagnetic radiation, and a section on geometric optics. An electronic version is available from the publisher, Wiley, and through WebAssign and CourseSmart. Here are details on what's new in the 3rd edition.

For students taking M&I E&M without M&I mechanics

For students taking E&M without having taken Matter & Interactions mechanics, here is a review of 3D vectors (you can right-click to save this pdf).

Who uses Matter & Interactions?

The curriculum is now in use in large engineering and science courses, where major change is challenging, at Purdue University, Georgia Tech, NCSU, the University of Texas Austin, Cal State Long Beach, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Other large institutions including the University of Michigan use it in courses for honors students or physics majors. There is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) developed at Georgia Tech based on Matter & Interactions that has attracted a huge number of students.

The curriculum is used in a larger number of small colleges, where change is much easier, including Carleton, St. Olaf, Wellesley, Haverford, Union, Albion, etc. The curriculum has also been used outside the United States, including at the University of British Columbia, the University of Calgary, the University of Cape Town, South Africa, the Australian National University, the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and the University of Helsinki. A group of physicists in four Spanish-speaking countries is preparing a Spanish translation to be published by the Mexican publisher Trillas.

Videos of Matter & Interactions lectures

Modern Mechanics, presented by Ruth Chabay

Electric & Magnetic Interactions, presented by Matthew Kohlmyer

Computational tools

VPython is an unusually easy to use 3D programming environment that is based on the widely-used Python programming language. VPython can be used by students with no previous programming experience, which makes it feasible to include computational modeling in the Matter & Interactions curriculum. GlowScript is a similar 3D programming environment, currently under development, which runs in a browser. It is based on the JavaScript/CoffeeScript programming languages.

A recent review

Here is a May 2014 review of Matter & Interactions in Wired by Rhett Allain, Southeast Louisiana University.


Development of this curriculum has been supported in part by the National Science Foundation through grants MDR-8953367, USE-9156105, DUE-9554843, DUE-9972420, DUE-0237132, DUE-0320608, and DUE-0618504. Opinions expressed are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of the Foundation.




Volume 1 (paperback)

Volume 2 (paperback)

Combined (hardbound)