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What is Physics?

By Sophia, published on 28/12/2018 Blog > Academia > Physics > All About Physics

From Archimedes’ Principle, dating back to around 250 BCE to the race to prove quantum gravity, the curiosity of our physical world has stirred the human mind as no other discipline ever has.

And yet, for the most part, people are afraid of physics. Students dread learning it and schools report ongoing difficulties in attracting and retaining qualified physics (and maths) teachers.

To be sure, physics is a far-reaching study, ranging from the subatomic to the astronomical.

The key point to remember is that studying physics, like studying anything, is not an all-encompassing proposition.

Of course, one must learn the fundamentals of physics, formulae and concepts, but after that, you get to choose where to direct your passion!

Superprof helps you get a grasp on those physics basics: properties of matter and the laws that govern their behaviour, as well as the forces that act on them.

It is also our pleasure to introduce you to physicists past and present who have all radically changed the way we see our environment.

Naturally, you should know some of the words associated with the discipline, too…

Physics Glossary

Do you go crazy at the mere mention of physics? Is this you at the mere mention of general relativity? Source: Pixabay Credit: CFV Images

Time to ‘fess up: when Sheldon Cooper prattles on all science-y, how many of you figuratively feel like your eyes are doing loops in their sockets?

The Big Bang Theory has done more to mainstream physics than possibly any other television series.

Doesn’t it seem to you though, that the scientific aspects are random and disjointed, with unexplained words tossed about as though the characters were discussing the next superhero movie rather than profound science?

Perhaps Penny’s reaction to the scientists expounding on their work might have been keen interest if she had known what they were talking about. If she knew words like:

Quantum: on its own, that word means ‘the smallest possible unit’. Attached to many physical concepts, it describes study at of the smallest particle level. Some fields of study at the quantum level include:

  • Quantum mechanics, including quantum field theory, concerns itself with the smallest scales of energy.

    • It is also known as quantum physics, quantum theory and matrix mechanics

  • Quantum entanglement lays out the discourse of studying one particle affecting all other particles connected to it.

  • Quantum optics is the behavioural study of light; more specifically, photons

  • Quantum tunnelling describes the phenomenon of matter travelling without passing through any intervening space

  • Quantum electrodynamics: the successful marriage of the Special Relativity Theory and quantum mechanics

Not all quantum theories have substance. For example, quantum gravity, the postulate that seeks to describe gravitational forces in terms of quantum mechanics is yet to be proven.

Bosons and fermions are the two classes of subatomic particles, named after theoretical physicist Satyendra Nath Bose and theoretical and experimental physicist Enrico Fermi.

A third class called hadron is a composite particle consisting of two or more quarks. Hadrons bridge the gap between fermions and bosons.

Quarks are another type of elementary particle; the only ones capable of experiencing all four fundamental forces.

Fundamental forces are electromagnetism, gravity, the strong force and the weak force.

There are so many terms to describe the physical realm; why not dig a little deeper and discover more?

We’ve tossed quite a few names into these descriptions; let us now talk about other great minds that have advanced our understanding of our world!

Famous Physicists

Einstein pioneered many important theories Many think Albert Einstein is the father of modern physics but he is in fact the premier of classical physics! Source: Pixabay Credit: Barbara A Lane

Many people say that we are a celebrity-obsessed culture but, if that were true, everyone would know these names!

Physics was established as a discipline during the Renaissance period, even though plenty of study into the nature of our physical world had taken place prior to that time.

Although Galileo made substantial advances in the studies of our cosmos, even debunking several long-held theories, it is actually William Gilbert who should be accorded the title of First Modern Scientist.

William Gilbert asserted the need for sure experiments and demonstrated arguments.

Until then, physicists had either indulged in theory with no experimentation or in actual work without formulating any theory that would make their work possible to replicate.

Thanks to Mr Gilbert’s avowal to eschew conjecture and philosophical opinion, other scientists embraced his ethos and the science of physics progressed by leaps and bounds.

Even today, physicists of every type uphold his research philosophy, including:

Alan Guth, a theoretical physicist whose work in elementary particle theory has expanded our knowledge of the Big Bang. In fact, he pioneered the theory of cosmic expansion.

Edward Witten, a professor of mathematical physics, conducts research in string theory and quantum gravity, among other fields of mathematical physics.

Roger Penrose is the teacher of the late, great Stephen Hawking. Theirs was never a case of the student surpassing the master; they enjoyed a long collaboration which, at one point, resulted in their being jointly awarded the Wolfe Prize.

Even though the field of physics has rather more male than female researchers, women in physics stand toe to toe with regard to discovery and advancement of science.

While still a graduate student, astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell was the first to observe and record pulsars; a discovery which earned the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Fabiola Gianotti, particle physicist and the first female director-general of CERN, was the leader of the ATLAS project through which the Higgs boson was first observed.

Astrophysicist Sandra Faber focused her research on how galaxies evolve. She was the first to postulate that, the brighter the galaxy, the faster its stars must be travelling.

There are so many amazing people exploring our universe, in theory, and through discovery! Why not learn more about them?

Key Concepts in Physics

No matter how renown the physicist or how great his/her accomplishments, every physical theorem and all physical discoveries are based on the same few fundamental concepts.

Let us, for a moment, contemplate the universe: large and still expanding, filled with energy and matter. In itself, the universe might be an overwhelming concept; after all, it is so very big and mostly unexplored!

However, the same forces that govern the physics of our universe also apply to elementary particles.

They are gravitation, electromagnetic force, the weak and the strong nuclear forces.

These forces are external to matter and act upon it, either attracting or repelling; binding or creating.

It is important to not mistake force with energy. Everything has energy, be it potential energy, kinetic energy; elastic or radiant energy.

Waves carry energy!

Sound waves, microwaves; seismic waves and gravitational waves are all energy transport phenomena.

What is particularly interesting about them is that they transport energy but not matter.

Gravitational waves are particularly puzzling because they are caused by the most energetic processes in our universe and ripple along spacetime.

In spite of having been predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916, such waves have only recently been detected; in 2016, to be exact!

Really, key concepts of physics are not difficult to master and, once you do, you could go on to work in theoretical physics, experimental physics or even condensed matter physics – one of the most active fields of physics study today!

Physics facts that Will Amaze You

Let yourself be amazed by these physics facts Your introduction to the physics world will be easy with these amazing physics facts! Source: Pixabay Credit: Geralt

Do you still think physics is a difficult subject? Has nothing said so far eased your fear of learning about this physical science?

What if we told you that Dr Who was not so much science fiction as science fact? Well, at least it includes aspects of modern science…

Our current model of cosmology includes infinite parallel universes, all happily existing side by side.

Because they are infinite, everything that could have happened or will happen has already happened, in one universe or the other. Does that sound a bit familiar?

What about space time and tearing a hole in the fabric of reality?

Even the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver is a valid physics postulate: set to the right frequency, such a device may well be able to excite molecules into behaving differently.

Truth is, for great entertainment, that serial does much to endorse the laws of physics!

Now we consider plasma. It flows through your veins and fills the cosmos; plasma even provides high-definition television viewing!

Plasma is one of the four fundamental states of matter; the other three being liquid, solid and gas.

The word’s Greek meaning, mouldable substance, makes it uniquely applicable to the fields of medical physics – a relatively new field of research, engineering (semiconductor fabrication) and, of course, its study in the field of astrophysics.

Fortunately, although they bear the same name, the plasma in your body is vastly different from the sun’s plasma. If they were of the same composition, we would all explode!

Still, plasma physics is a most intriguing field of study

There are so many fascinating and amazing aspects to our physical world and so many fields to declare oneself in; from molecular physics and applied physics through computational physics, all the way to high energy physics… where would you direct your passion?

Toward the skies, studying the cosmos? Or does particle physics appeal to you? Have you always dreamt of smashing atoms in the Great Hadron Collider?

All you have to do is not be afraid of your physics education. After that, the infinity of space is the limit… literally!

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