Physics is the scientific study of matter and its motion through space/time and its derivitives, including energy and force. It is generally the analysis of nature and is conducted to help us understand how the universe behaves. Physics comes from the Greek word physis, meaning “nature”. It is among the oldest academic disciplines, and perhaps the oldest pertaining to astronomy. Physics has been considered synonymous with philosophy, chemistry, mathematics, and biology for more than 2000 years. It became its own unique branch of science in the 16th century during the Scientific Revolution. The limits of physics can be difficult to distinguish, especially when categorized with mathematical physics and quantum chemistry. Physics is now considered by some to be the “fundamental science”.
Physics is significant and influential and has been applauded for its contributions to the advancement of new technologies and other new ideas that often resonate with other sciences, such as mathematics and philosophy. For instance, advanced understanding in electromagnetism led to the development of modern-day products (e.g. television, motorized transport, appliances). Advanced understanding in thermodynamics led to the development of motorized transport, and mechanics helped inspire the development of calculus.
There are a wide variety of fields in physics. Although the list is varied, certain theories are utilized by all physicists. Each theory was tested numerous times and found correct as an approximation of Nature. These theories are active areas of research. These theories are commonly known as “central theories” and are important tools for research into all areas of physics. All physicists, regardless of field of science, is expected to be literate in these theories. The sub-divisions of physics can be categorized by
condensed matter physics; atomic, molecular, and optical physics; particle physics; astrophysics; geophysics and biophysics. Since the early 1900s, individual fields of physics have become more and more specialized and most physicists today work in a single field for their entire career.
The goal of physics is to describe various phenomena that occur in nature through simpler phenomena. It connects the things we see in our world to the root causes, and then tries to connect the causes together in hopes of finding an ultimate reason for why nature acts the way it does. One example is that ancient Chinese observed certain rocks that seemed to attract one another by an invisible force. Later, this effect became known as magnetism. The ancient Greeks knew of objects that when rubbed with fur would cause an attraction between the two. This was studied further in the 17th century and became known as electricity. Later, in the 19th century, physicists learned that these two forces (electricity and magnetism) were just two different aspects of the same force: electromagnetism.
Physics utilizes a scientific method to test the authenticity of physical theory. This methodical approach compares theories in question with possible conclusions drawn from observations and experiments conducted to test them. The results are collected and matched with predictions and hypotheses stated in a theory. This aids in the determination of the authenticity or validity of a theory. Well supported theories that have consistent data and have never failed in testing are often called scientific laws, or natural laws. All theories and laws, however, can be replaced by more accurate statements if disagreements in theory or inconsistent data is ever found.
There is a higher degree of separation between theory and experiment in physics than with most other sciences. Since the 20th century, most physicists have specialized in either theoretical physics or experimental physics. In sharp contrast, almost all the successful biology and chemistry theorists, have also been experimentalists. This practice is beginning to change as of late.
Theorists usually develop mathematical models that agree with existing experiments and successfully predict future results. Experimentalists devise and perform experiments to test theoretical predictions and explore new areas and phenomena. Although these two areas are developed separately, they are very dependant on one another. Progress is frequently made only when experimentalists make a discovery that theories cannot explain. Without experiment, theoretical research can go wrong. This could be the case with M-theory. M-theory is a popular theory based on high energy physics that has never had any practical testing or experimenting.
Theoretical physics basically does not exist without mathematics, which is the key ingredient of physical theories. Large areas of mathematics, such as calculus, have been invented specifically to solve physics problems. Theorists also may rely on computer simulations and numerical analysis. Theoretical physics has also been historically linked to metaphysics and philosophy. Beyond the known universe, theoretical physics deals with hypothetical issues, such as parallel universes, multiverses, and higher dimensions. These issues result in physicists constructing hypothetical theories.
Experimental physics relates to engineering and technology. Experimentalists use equipment such as particle accelerators and lasers for basic research and experiments. Those involved in advanced research or applied research often work in industry and develop technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and transistors.
Mathematics provides the logical binding in which physical laws can be precisely formulated and predictions substantiated. When analytical solutions of equations are not possible, numerical analysis and scientific computation can be utilized efficiently. The field of computational physics is an active area of research. The main difference, however, between physics and mathematics is that physics is largely concerned with descriptions of the material world, theories are tested by comparing predictions with data, and experiments and observations are made, whereas mathematics is concerned with abstract patterns, especially not limited to those in the real world. This distinction, however, is not always clear. There is a large area of research that utilizes both sciences and thus forms the subfield mathematical physics.
Mainstream physics in many ways has stemmed from ancient Greek philosophy. Philosophers like Thales, Democritus, and Aristotle articulated on the theories of matter and nature. Well into the 18th century, physics was known as “Natural Philosophy”. Not until the 19th century did physics become realized as a positive science and distinct discipline separate from philosophy and the other fields. Physics still relies heavily on philosophy to give an adequate description of the scientific method. The development of physics has answered many questions of early philosophers, and also has raised new questions. Many physicists have written about the philosophical implications of their work.
Physics plays an integral part in many modern developments. Construction of bridges, towers, concert halls, etc. all use physics. Optical devices, flight simulators, video games, and movies all are made better through an understanding of physics. Physics also plays an important role in forensic investigations. Physics can be used to study things that would normally be set aside due to uncertainties.