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Science: What is Physics?

Updated on June 12, 2012

What is Physics: By definition

Firstly let's take a look at the definitions of physics; states:

  1. The branch of science concerned with the properties of matter and energy and the relationships between them. It is based on mathematics and traditionally includes mechanics, optics, electricity and magnetism, acoustics, and heat. Modern physics, based on quantum theory, includes atomic, nuclear, particle, and solid-state studies. It can also embrace applied fields such as geophysics and meteorology
  2. Physical properties of behaviour: the physics of the electron
  3. Archaic natural science or natural philosophy

If we break down from the definition and look at it in a broader sense. It is a study and analysis of nature, which is done in order to work out how the universe behaves.

What is physics?

A chalkboard with physics equations and doodles.
A chalkboard with physics equations and doodles.

What is Physics: A History

We will now look at the history of physics in broad strokes. It is one of the oldest scientific disciplines. It was first formally studied in archaic Greece between 650BC and 480BC, during this time it was known as natural philosophy. It was during the first part of the 5th Century that the theory of atomisation was developed, which talked about everything being made of inadvisable elements called 'atoms'.

Aristotle was the first credited with calling the study of natural laws 'physics'. It developed into a very contentious subject and often contradicted the church which at the time, were seen as the leading scholars. A famous example of this is the heliocentric theory which put the Sun at the centre of the solar system and not the Earth which at the time was seen as close to blasphemy.

The 17th Century saw a major advancement with many famous names such as Francis Bacon, William Gilbert, Robert Hooke and of course Galileo Galilei, who was christened by Stephen Hawkins the father of modern physics. This was a time that mathematical descriptive schemes were adopted for such fields, such as mechanics and astronomy which could actually model universally valid characterizations of motion

Galileo Sun Centred model

Isaac Newton

One of the most famous physicists of all time!
One of the most famous physicists of all time! | Source

From the late 17th into the early 18th century a famous Cambridge university physicist, Isaac Newton published the iconic Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy which described the motion with beautiful mathematical proofs. Later in the 18th century when Newtons work was applied to rotational mechanics it became known as 'classical physics.

Moving into the later 18th and early 19th Century we reach an era where experimental physics took a front foot looking at prisms, electricity and f rational mechanics began to be applied to experimental phenomena. As we move further into the 19th century branches of physics including

Thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and electromagnetic theory were developed,it was a change of rapid developments and challenges on classical ideas, mathematical analysis of many phenomenon were applied the most famous of which the introduction of a new concept of the 'field' and the publication of Maxwell’s 1873 Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism.

From here we move into modern physics and famous scientists which most of the world have heard of including Einstein who is credited with the special and general theories of relativity which fixed the anomalies in Newtons classical physics models. Also the branches of quantum physics have been and continue to be developed.

Famous Physicists

Biggest Contribution
Physicae Auscultationes
On Floating Bodies
Book of Optics
1543 On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres
632 Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems
1687 Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy
1873 Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism
1905 On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies
These are just some of the famous physicists through time. There are so many moreI could have mentioned including Bohr, Hawkins, Heisenburg

What is Quantum Physics

It is the physics of the very small, what happens on atomic and smaller scales. Fact is stranger than fiction!
It is the physics of the very small, what happens on atomic and smaller scales. Fact is stranger than fiction! | Source

What is Physics today?

At the present time the main areas of development are quantum physics which is the physics of the very small, you can read about quantum physics in my series of hubs on the subject. Currently we are looking at string theory, M-brane theory many of which only work if we are in a universe of 10 or 11 dimensions.

There is also a very active area in GUT (grand unified theory) which is trying to bring together the theories of quantum mechanics and relativity this is a very hotly anticipated development as it will potentially give us a more complete understanding of nature and the universe.

Physics is a fascinating subject and one which I encourage you to read up on. Often the reality is a lot stranger than you can imagine. Can you imagine a cat which is both dead and alive, you being able to put your hand straight through a table and speeds which make the Bugatti veyron look like a snail. Below are some links where you can find out much more about the wonderful world of physics.


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    • dipless profile image

      dipless 6 years ago from Manchester

      It is pretty mind blowing, I think often when you are e a kid they try and spoon feed you information and as you get older you develop an affinity with things you find interesting which makes the learning and understanding process a lot easier. :)

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      I'm fascinated by Quantum Physics and seem to get my head around it quicker than I ever did with vanilla Physics back when I was in school!

      Schrodinger's cat is a bit of a quandary until you accept the fact (?) that nothing really exists until we observe it. Mind blowing.

    • dipless profile image

      dipless 6 years ago from Manchester

      @Nell indeed good old Schrodinger, him and his crazy thoughts :p I too am rather partial to the quantum world as you have probably noted from my other hubs. Haha oh yeah never made that connection, but I have now, thanks for commenting.

      @karmallama thanks for your comments, indeed it is mine too, I love it when reality is stranger than fiction :)

    • Karmallama profile image

      Doreen Lucky 6 years ago from St. Paul, minnesota

      very fascinating! My favorite form of physics is quantum but I suppose that is a whole other ball game. Again, Great job

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

      Good old Schrodinger! lol! I love physics, I try and follow the latest news as much as I can. I have always loved the 'small' compared to my brother who loves the 'big' as in Space and the Universe, really interesting. I must admit to a smile when I read the title, it reminded me of that classic sketch with sheldon (big bang) when he was trying to teach Penny about physics, 'it was a warm summers evening in ancient greece'! lol!

    • Ibrahim Hany profile image

      Ibrahim Hany 6 years ago from Alexandria, Egypt

      As far as I understood it, it is just an equations-trick!

      But it's amazing how a simple sentence that you put at the end of your article "Can you imagine a cat which is both dead and alive", made me know an interesting "thought" experiment as Schrodinger's cat!

      Good job! :)

    • dipless profile image

      dipless 6 years ago from Manchester

      Sorry itw as a bit abstract, I was referring to Schrodingers famous thought experiment 'Schrodingers Cat'. You can see on my hub

      I may rework that section though.

    • Ibrahim Hany profile image

      Ibrahim Hany 6 years ago from Alexandria, Egypt

      That was useful, but how can a cat be dead and alive, I did not get that part?


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