The author is professor of physics at the University of Sheffield and teaches a course in atomic physics to fourth year physics students. His course notes have been available for several years and this book is based on those course notes.
In keeping with the Student’s Guide series this modestly sized volume provides a good introduction to atomic physics without the sometimes overbearing detail found in more extensive treatments. The style is engaging without being too formal and a list of important symbols and quantum numbers at the beginning is welcome, as is a list of fundamental constants at the end of the book. While it is meant to augment a course in atomic physics at Sheffield, it would benefit anyone wanting a grounding in the subject.
Key concepts are examined immediately with a description of bound states and ionisation followed by the Bohr model of the hydrogen atom. This is quickly followed by a description of the hydrogen atom through the usual solution of the time-independent Schrödinger equation. The solution is one of the most important (and beautiful) pieces of theoretical physics that the student will encounter. For this reason, perhaps every student of atomic physics should go through the full solution at least once in their career, but on a first pass it’s more important to understand the implications of the solution. For those who feel they need to see the full solution, mathematical details are presented in appendices.
Being the main focus of the book, optical transitions are covered in some detail followed by the shell theory of atomic structure which naturally leads on to the development of the periodic table. Angular momentum and spin are dealt with in the usual way where some knowledge of operator notation from quantum mechanics is assumed. Helium and exchange symmetry are followed by the fine structure and nuclear effects, external fields and the Zeeman and Stark effects. Considering the amount of material covered in the first part of this book it is remarkable that Professor Fox has achieved this in just 160 pages without sacrificing any core material.
The second part of the book is concerned with the applications of the theory including lasers, cold atoms, solid state physics, and some astronomy. It provides students with a broad introduction to a number of areas where atomic physics plays a crucial role. While not going into these areas in any great depth, there is enough material here to give students who wish to pursue atomic physics at the graduate level a flavour for the range of application of the theoretical development in the first part of the book.
It should be noted that this is not a chemistry book, nor a book on particle physics. Consequently, with the exception of helium, there is very little discussion of molecules. Similarly, there is no discussion of the constituents of the proton and neutron, namely quarks and gluons. The emphasis is quite rightly on the atom, its properties, its behaviour and applications of the theory of the atom.
This is a well-constructed book with a great many exercises at the end of each chapter. These exercises are of tremendous value, enabling students to solve a wide variety of problems in the subject. I would recommend this book for anyone who wanted a basic understanding of atomic physics. There are plenty of texts out there that go into a great more detail, but this volume would be useful for chemists, engineers or mathematicians who need a grounding in atomic physics without going into too much detail.
Finally, it should be remembered that this is part of the Student’s Guide Series and as such is deliberately short and to the point. This book would be a good starting point for anyone who needs to gain an understanding of the basic concepts involved in atomic physics and its applications and would be a good introduction to the subject for anyone interested in pursuing a career where atomic physics plays an important role.