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Physics, one of the oldest branches of science, is the study of matter, energy, and their interactions (so says Merriam Webster). Of course, if you take a look at the most famous equation of all time, Einstein’s E=MC2, you might throw yourself into loops about the fact that matter and energy are one and the same.
Physics covers the study of everything from the smallest particles (quarks, neutrinos, Higgs-Boson particles) to the largest mysteries of space itself – astrophysicists study the stars and the universe around us. In between, you’ll find physicists at work making computers faster as they build better transistors, and explaining the motion of a knuckle ball through fluid dynamics.
Some of the best-remembered scientists of all time were physicists. Sir Isaac Newton is credited with “discovering” gravity and codifying its interactions with the world through his 3 laws of motion. Einstein was, well, Einstein and helped usher in a new age of thought. Richard Feynman captured the imagination of the public through lucid explanations of complex phenomena. And, of course, Stephen Hawking has captivated several generations of the curious with an unbounded imagination turned upon topics such as Black Holes.
So, a quick history of some “important dates in physics” (many thanks to http://physics.eou.edu/history/timeline.html):
- 3rd century BC – Aristarchus proposes a heliocentric model (the sun at the center of the universe…and yes, it took a very long time for that to become the accepted truth)
- 1100s First known written description of the use of lodestone as a compass (how cool are magnets?
- 1512 Nicholas Copernicus first states his heliocentric theory in Commentariolus (see, he was only a little late to the party, but he caused a big stir)
- 1589 Galileo Galilei uses balls rolling on inclined planes to show that different weights fall with the same constant acceleration (just wait for Newton!)
- 1609 Johannes Kepler states his first two empirical laws of planetary motion
- 1609 Galileo Galilei builds his first telescope (the early 17th century was a big time for early astrophysicists)
- 1665 Isaac Newton deduces the inverse-square gravitational force law from the acceleration of the moon (this is a big deal)
- 1665 Isaac Newton invents his calculus (and yes, he did invent calculus in order to explain what he was talking about)
- 1687 Isaac Newton publishes his Principia Mathematica (annus mirrablis)
- 1752 Benjamin Franklin shows that lightning is electricity (he was good for more than suggesting a turkey as the national mascot)
- 1783 John Michell suggests that some objects might be so massive that not even light could escape (black holes, but he didn’t know it)
- 1798 Henry Cavendish measures the gravitational constant and determines the mass of the Earth (using a mountain in Scotland)
- 1801 Thomas Young demonstrates the wave nature of light and the principle of interference (wait for Einstein on that one)
- 1821 Michael Faraday builds an electricity-powered motor
- 1827 Robert Brown discovers the Brownian motion (not that creative with names, but incredibly important)
- 1848 Lord Kelvin discovers the absolute zero point of temperature (on his own scale of temperature)
- 1859 Maxwell works out the mathematics of the distribution of velocities of the molecules of a gas (uses a thought experiment involving “Maxwell’s Demon”)
- 1874 Lord Kelvin formally states the second law of thermodynamics (there would be three, all told)
- 1905 Albert Einstein completes his theory of special relativity (still working in a patent office)
- 1913 Niels Bohr presents his first quantum model of the atom
- 1927 Werner Heisenberg states the quantum uncertainty principle (and started a few fights with Einstein)
- 1958 Charles Townes invents the laser
- 1942 Enrico Fermi obtains the first self-sustaining fission reaction
- 1965 Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson measure the cosmic background radiation (age of the universe? Check)
With two millennia of discoveries, theories, and experiments, it’s no wonder that Physics consistently presents a difficult set of challenges to students. If you find yourself struggling with it, and need a physics tutor, check out our tutor listings below.
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