Home » Articole » Articles » Science » Physics » The Scope of Physics

The Scope of Physics

posted in: Physics 0

Whirlpool Galaxy

Figure 1.1 This image might be showing any number of things. It might be a whirlpool in a tank of water or perhaps a collage of paint and shiny beads done for art class. Without knowing the size of the object in units we all recognize, such as meters or inches, it is difficult to know what we’re looking at. In fact, this image shows the Whirlpool Galaxy (and its companion galaxy), which is about 60,000 light-years in diameter (about 6 × 1017 km across). (Credit: modification of work by S. Beckwith (STScI) Hubble Heritage Team, (STScI/AURA), ESA, NASA)

As noted in the figure caption, the chapter-opening image is of the Whirlpool Galaxy, which we examine in the first section of this chapter. Galaxies are as immense as atoms are small, yet the same laws of physics describe both, along with all the rest of nature—an indication of the underlying unity in the universe. The laws of physics are surprisingly few, implying an underlying simplicity to nature’s apparent complexity. In this text, you learn about the laws of physics. Galaxies and atoms may seem far removed from your daily life, but as you begin to explore this broad-ranging subject, you may soon come to realize that physics plays a much larger role in your life than you first thought, no matter your life goals or career choice.

Physics is devoted to the understanding of all natural phenomena. In physics, we try to understand physical phenomena at all scales—from the world of subatomic particles to the entire universe. Despite the breadth of the subject, the various subfields of physics share a common core. The same basic training in physics will prepare you to work in any area of physics and the related areas of science and engineering. In this section, we investigate the scope of physics; the scales of length, mass, and time over which the laws of physics have been shown to be applicable; and the process by which science in general, and physics in particular, operates.

The Scope of Physics

Take another look at the chapter-opening image. The Whirlpool Galaxy contains billions of individual stars as well as huge clouds of gas and dust. Its companion galaxy is also visible to the right. This pair of galaxies lies a staggering billion trillion miles (1.4×1021mi) from our own galaxy (which is called the Milky Way). The stars and planets that make up the Whirlpool Galaxy might seem to be the furthest thing from most people’s everyday lives, but the Whirlpool is a great starting point to think about the forces that hold the universe together. The forces that cause the Whirlpool Galaxy to act as it does are thought to be the same forces we contend with here on Earth, whether we are planning to send a rocket into space or simply planning to raise the walls for a new home. The gravity that causes the stars of the Whirlpool Galaxy to rotate and revolve is thought to be the same as what causes water to flow over hydroelectric dams here on Earth. When you look up at the stars, realize the forces out there are the same as the ones here on Earth. Through a study of physics, you may gain a greater understanding of the interconnectedness of everything we can see and know in this universe.

Humans have created and manufactured millions of different objects. Successive technological periods (often referred to as the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and so on) are marked by knowledge of the physical properties of certain materials and the ability to manipulate them. This knowledge all stems from physics, whether it’s the way a rock would flake when constructing a spear point, the effect of integrating carbon with iron in South Indian and Sri Lankan furnaces to create the earliest high-quality steel, or the proper way to combine perfectly ground and polished pieces of glass to create optical instruments. Our current technological age, the Information Age, can be traced to critical innovations made by people from all backgrounds working together. Mohamed M. Atalla and Dawon Kahng, for example, invented the MOSFET (metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor). Although unknown to most people, this tiny device, created in 1959 by an Egyptian-born scientist and a Korean-born scientist working in a lab in New Jersey (U.S.), is the basis for modern electronics. More MOSFETs have been produced than any other object in human history. They are used in computers, smartphones, microwave ovens, automotive controls, medical instruments, and nearly every other electronic device.

Next, think about the most exciting modern technologies that you have heard about in the news, such as trains that levitate above tracks, “invisibility cloaks” that bend light around them, and microscopic robots that fight cancer cells in our bodies. All these groundbreaking advances, commonplace or unbelievable, rely on the principles of physics. Aside from playing a significant role in technology, professionals such as engineers, pilots, physicians, physical therapists, electricians, and computer programmers apply physics concepts in their daily work. For example, a pilot must understand how wind forces affect a flight path; a physical therapist must understand how the muscles in the body experience forces as they move and bend. As you will learn in this text, the principles of physics are propelling new, exciting technologies, and these principles are applied in a wide range of careers.

The underlying order of nature makes science in general, and physics in particular, interesting and enjoyable to study. For example, what do a bag of chips and a car battery have in common? Both contain energy that can be converted to other forms. The law of conservation of energy (which says that energy can change form but is never lost) ties together such topics as food calories, batteries, heat, light, and watch springs. Understanding this law makes it easier to learn about the various forms energy takes and how they relate to one another. Apparently unrelated topics are connected through broadly applicable physical laws, permitting an understanding beyond just the memorization of lists of facts.

Science consists of theories and laws that are the general truths of nature, as well as the body of knowledge they encompass. Scientists are continuously trying to expand this body of knowledge and to perfect the expression of the laws that describe it. Physics, which comes from the Greek phúsis, meaning “nature,” is concerned with describing the interactions of energy, matter, space, and time to uncover the fundamental mechanisms that underlie every phenomenon. This concern for describing the basic phenomena in nature essentially defines the scope of physics.

Physics aims to understand the world around us at the most basic level. It emphasizes the use of a small number of quantitative laws to do this, which can be useful to other fields pushing the performance boundaries of existing technologies. Consider a smartphone (Figure 1.2). Physics describes how electricity interacts with the various circuits inside the device. This knowledge helps engineers select the appropriate materials and circuit layout when building a smartphone. Knowledge of the physics underlying these devices is required to shrink their size or increase their processing speed. Or, think about a GPS. Physics describes the relationship between the speed of an object, the distance over which it travels, and the time it takes to travel that distance. GPS relies on precise calculations that account for variations in the Earth’s landscapes, the exact distance between orbiting satellites, and even the effect of a complex occurrence of time dilation. Most of these calculations are founded on algorithms developed by Gladys West, a mathematician and computer scientist who programmed the first computers capable of highly accurate remote sensing and positioning. When you use a GPS device, it utilizes these algorithms to recognize where you are and how your position relates to other objects on Earth.

Apple iPhone

Figure 1.2 The Apple iPhone is a common smartphone with a GPS function. Physics describes the way that electricity flows through the circuits of this device. Engineers use their knowledge of physics to construct an iPhone with features that consumers will enjoy. One specific feature of an iPhone is the GPS function. A GPS uses physics equations to determine the drive time between two locations on a map. (Credit: Pixabay)

Knowledge of physics is useful in everyday situations as well as in nonscientific professions. It can help you understand how microwave ovens work, why metals should not be put into them, and why they might affect pacemakers. Physics allows you to understand the hazards of radiation and to evaluate these hazards rationally and more easily. Physics also explains the reason why a black car radiator helps remove heat in a car engine, and it explains why a white roof helps keep the inside of a house cool. Similarly, the operation of a car’s ignition system as well as the transmission of electrical signals throughout our body’s nervous system are much easier to understand when you think about them in terms of basic physics.

Physics is a key element of many important disciplines and contributes directly to others. Chemistry, for example—since it deals with the interactions of atoms and molecules—has close ties to atomic and molecular physics. Most branches of engineering are concerned with designing new technologies, processes, or structures within the constraints set by the laws of physics. In architecture, physics is at the heart of structural stability and is involved in the acoustics, heating, lighting, and cooling of buildings. Parts of geology rely heavily on physics, such as radioactive dating of rocks, earthquake analysis, and heat transfer within Earth. Some disciplines, such as biophysics and geophysics, are hybrids of physics and other disciplines.

Physics has many applications in the biological sciences. On the microscopic level, it helps describe the properties of cells and their environments. On the macroscopic level, it explains the heat, work, and power associated with the human body and its various organ systems. Physics is involved in medical diagnostics, such as radiographs, magnetic resonance imaging, and ultrasonic blood flow measurements. Medical therapy sometimes involves physics directly; for example, cancer radiotherapy uses ionizing radiation. Physics also explains sensory phenomena, such as how musical instruments make sound, how the eye detects color, and how lasers transmit information.

It is not necessary to study all applications of physics formally. What is most useful is knowing the basic laws of physics and developing skills in the analytical methods for applying them. The study of physics also can improve your problem-solving skills. Furthermore, physics retains the most basic aspects of science, so it is used by all the sciences, and the study of physics makes other sciences easier to understand.

Source: Physics, Volume 1, University Physics (OpenStax), license CC BY 4.0

The Car Show
The Car Show

This e-book details the most interesting and important characteristics of the automobiles, car maintenance, styling features, car body style, the standard classification of the cars, an history of the automobiles, introduction in the automotive industry, and the traffic code, rules … Read More

not rated $0.00$2.99 Select options
Death – Cultural, philosophical and religious aspects
Death – Cultural, philosophical and religious aspects

About death, grief, mourning, life after death and immortality. Why should we die like humans to survive as a species. “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. … Read More

not rated $3.99 Select options
Epistemology of experimental gravity - Scientific rationality
Epistemology of experimental gravity – Scientific rationality

The evolution of gravitational tests from an epistemological perspective framed in the concept of rational reconstruction of Imre Lakatos, based on his methodology of research programmes. Unlike other works on the same subject, the evaluated period is very extensive, starting … Read More

not rated $0.00 Select options

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *