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Physics is the study of matter and its behaviour and motion through time and space. It is the study of our physical world, including the parts of it that are too small to see.
Some might think it ironic to study the physical world and all of its properties in cyberspace but, if you think about it, there is a beautiful logic to it.
So much of the discipline we call physics is theory; hypotheses that, as yet, cannot be tested but form the basis of so many of this science’s subspecialties.
Let’s take Dark Matter, as an instance. The scientific community knows it’s there and knows what it is NOT made of – stars that failed to ignite, ionized plasma or clouds of gas, but scientists have yet to get any such matter under a microscope and, for that matter, have failed to detect any.
The consensus on Dark Matter remains that it must exist – the effects of its presence only indirectly seen but, for now, the study of this elusive matter remains in the realm of theory.
Physics underpins every single aspect of our known world but what does it matter? Please pardon that pun.
Do we care that a feather will fall as quickly as a brick in a vacuum? How will a Higgs boson advance the cause of humanity? Is there an urgency to studying dark matter – maybe it threatens to engulf our planet and destroy us all?
The answer to the question ‘why study physics?’ is bigger than physics itself.
The need to investigate and understand everything around us is a fundamental human trait. In terms of evolution, studying physical properties of available materials led to tool making and cooking over fire.
Naturally, early humans lacked the intellectual breadth to explain why meat roasts when exposed to flame but their observation and perpetuation of that phenomenon led them to establish another protein-rich food source which made them bigger and stronger, contributing to their survival.
Unlike studying medicine, where the benefits of a correct diagnosis will be seen and felt by the patient, (aspiring) physicists themselves enjoy some of the greatest benefits of studying physics.
Remember that physics is primarily the search, discovery and struggle to understand the unknown. Consider the fact that their work starts out positing something hypothetical, which they then have to work to prove. That is the ultimate in building critical thinking skills!
Physicists generally labour under great doubt and uncertainty, meaning that they routinely manage doubt, in themselves and from the wider world. They must be able to tell fact from fiction and discern fact from fraud. Finally, they must have the courage to scrap their work if, after months and years of working to prove a theory, they find their work will bear no fruit.
Who would have thought that studying physics would help to cultivate courage, integrity and a keen eye for judgment?
It’s OK to start small
For some reason, school students seem to have little aversion to learning chemistry and even less than that to studying biology. The prospect of studying physics tends to induce terror.
That’s rather odd when you consider that physics lies at the heart of biology and chemistry studies.
Consider this: the biology taught in schools today is fundamentally applied chemistry and the chemistry curriculum is basically applied physics. Thus, according to the transitive property of equality, studies in biology are, in fact, physics studies.
So, if you’re more comfortable beginning your scientific studies journey in biology, there is nothing at all wrong with that. School curricula commonly introduce biology as an elementary school subject and then progress to chemistry, making physics an option at higher levels of study.
Physics is a maths-heavy study that relies on complex calculations to prove its theories.
It’s interesting to note that math anxiety is a very real condition that affects up to a quarter of the world’s population. There are no documented cases of physics anxiety.
In fact, most students find the physical world fascinating! They eagerly apply the laws of physics in their daily life. Every time they touch their phone screen, when they put earbuds in to listen to music, as they ride scooters, bikes, skateboards…
Maybe learning about physics in relation to students’ everyday life would be a good way to overcome an aversion to physics.
Another is to get good at math; perhaps via online lessons with a private tutor. Think about this: a math or physics tutor would be invaluable to lowering anxiety levels and raising awareness of just how much fun studying physics can be.
And remember: physics is not just about science, it’s about building character and fostering a lifelong love for discovery.
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