Physics (from Ancient Greek: φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), translit. physikḗ (epistḗmē), lit. 'knowledge of nature', from φύσις phýsis "nature") is the natural science that studies matter, its motion, and behavior through space and time, and that studies the related entities of energy and force. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves.[a]
Physics is one of the oldest academic disciplines and, through its inclusion of astronomy, perhaps the oldest. Over the past two millennia, physics, chemistry, biology, and certain branches of mathematics, were a part of natural philosophy, but during the scientific revolution in the 17th century these natural sciences emerged as unique research endeavors in their own right.[b] Physics intersects with many interdisciplinary areas of research, such as biophysics and quantum chemistry, and the boundaries of physics which are not rigidly defined. New ideas in physics often explain the fundamental mechanisms studied by other sciences and suggest new avenues of research in academic disciplines such as mathematics and philosophy.
Advances in physics often enable advances in new technologies. For example, advances in the understanding of electromagnetism and nuclear physics led directly to the development of new products that have dramatically transformed modern-day society, such as television, computers, domestic appliances, and nuclear weapons; advances in thermodynamics led to the development of industrialization; and advances in mechanics inspired the development of calculus.
Astronomy is one of the oldest natural sciences. Early civilizations dating back to beyond 3000 BCE, such as the Sumerians, ancient Egyptians, and the Indus Valley Civilization, had a predictive knowledge and a basic understanding of the motions of the Sun, Moon, and stars. The stars and planets were often worshipped, believed to represent gods. While the explanations for the observed positions of the stars were often unscientific and lacking in evidence, these early observations laid the foundation for later astronomy, as the stars were found to traverse great circles across the sky, which however did not explain the positions of the planets.
According to Asger Aaboe, the origins of Western astronomy can be found in Mesopotamia, and all Western efforts in the exact sciences are descended from late Babylonian astronomy. Egyptian astronomers left monuments showing knowledge of the constellations and the motions of the celestial bodies, while Greek poet Homer wrote of various celestial objects in his Iliad and Odyssey; later Greek astronomers provided names, which are still used today, for most constellations visible from the northern hemisphere.
Natural philosophy has its origins in Greece during the Archaic period, (650 BCE – 480 BCE), when pre-Socratic philosophers like Thales rejected non-naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena and proclaimed that every event had a natural cause. They proposed ideas verified by reason and observation, and many of their hypotheses proved successful in experiment; for example, atomism was found to be correct approximately 2000 years after it was proposed by Leucippus and his pupil Democritus.
The Western Roman Empire fell in the fifth century, and this resulted in a decline in intellectual pursuits in the western part of Europe. By contrast, the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire) resisted the attacks from the barbarians, and continued to advance various fields of learning, including physics.
In the sixth century Isidore of Miletus created an important compilation of Archimedes' works that are copied in the Archimedes Palimpsest.
In sixth century Europe John Philoponus, a Byzantine scholar, questioned Aristotle's teaching of physics and noting its flaws. He introduced the theory of impetus. Aristotle's physics was not scrutinized until John Philoponus appeared, and unlike Aristotle who based his physics on verbal argument, Philoponus relied on observation. On Aristotle's physics John Philoponus wrote:
“But this is completely erroneous, and our view may be corroborated by actual observation more effectively than by any sort of verbal argument. For if you let fall from the same height two weights of which one is many times as heavy as the other, you will see that the ratio of the times required for the motion does not depend on the ratio of the weights, but that the difference in time is a very small one. And so, if the difference in the weights is not considerable, that is, of one is, let us say, double the other, there will be no difference, or else an imperceptible difference, in time, though the difference in weight is by no means negligible, with one body weighing twice as much as the other”
John Philoponus' criticism of Aristotelian principles of physics served as an inspiration for Galileo Galilei ten centuries later, during the Scientific Revolution. Galileo cited Philoponus substantially in his works when arguing that Aristotelian physics was flawed. In the 1300s Jean Buridan, a teacher in the faculty of arts at the University of Paris, developed the concept of impetus. It was a step toward the modern ideas of inertia and momentum.
Islamic scholarship inherited Aristotelian physics from the Greeks and during the Islamic Golden Age developed it further, especially placing emphasis on observation and a priori reasoning, developing early forms of the scientific method.
The most notable innovations were in the field of optics and vision, which came from the works of many scientists like Ibn Sahl, Al-Kindi, Ibn al-Haytham, Al-Farisi and Avicenna. The most notable work was The Book of Optics (also known as Kitāb al-Manāẓir), written by Ibn al-Haytham, in which he conclusively disproved the ancient Greek idea about vision, but also came up with a new theory. In the book, he presented a study of the phenomenon of the camera obscura (his thousand-year-old version of the pinhole camera) and delved further into the way the eye itself works. Using dissections and the knowledge of previous scholars, he was able to begin to explain how light enters the eye. He asserted that the light ray is focused, but the actual explanation of how light projected to the back of the eye had to wait until 1604. His Treatise on Light explained the camera obscura, hundreds of years before the modern development of photography.
The seven-volume Book of Optics (Kitab al-Manathir) hugely influenced thinking across disciplines from the theory of visual perception to the nature of perspective in medieval art, in both the East and the West, for more than 600 years. Many later European scholars and fellow polymaths, from Robert Grosseteste and Leonardo da Vinci to René Descartes, Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton, were in his debt. Indeed, the influence of Ibn al-Haytham's Optics ranks alongside that of Newton's work of the same title, published 700 years later.
The translation of The Book of Optics had a huge impact on Europe. From it, later European scholars were able to build devices that replicated those Ibn al-Haytham had built, and understand the way light works. From this, such important things as eyeglasses, magnifying glasses, telescopes, and cameras were developed.
Major developments in this period include the replacement of the geocentric model of the solar system with the heliocentric Copernican model, the laws governing the motion of planetary bodies determined by Johannes Kepler between 1609 and 1619, pioneering work on telescopes and observational astronomy by Galileo Galilei in the 16th and 17th Centuries, and Isaac Newton's discovery and unification of the laws of motion and universal gravitation that would come to bear his name. Newton also developed calculus,[c] the mathematical study of change, which provided new mathematical methods for solving physical problems.
The discovery of new laws in thermodynamics, chemistry, and electromagnetics resulted from greater research efforts during the Industrial Revolution as energy needs increased. The laws comprising classical physics remain very widely used for objects on everyday scales travelling at non-relativistic speeds, since they provide a very close approximation in such situations, and theories such as quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity simplify to their classical equivalents at such scales. However, inaccuracies in classical mechanics for very small objects and very high velocities led to the development of modern physics in the 20th century.
Modern physics began in the early 20th century with the work of Max Planck in quantum theory and Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. Both of these theories came about due to inaccuracies in classical mechanics in certain situations. Classical mechanics predicted a varying speed of light, which could not be resolved with the constant speed predicted by Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism; this discrepancy was corrected by Einstein's theory of special relativity, which replaced classical mechanics for fast-moving bodies and allowed for a constant speed of light. Black-body radiation provided another problem for classical physics, which was corrected when Planck proposed that the excitation of material oscillators is possible only in discrete steps proportional to their frequency; this, along with the photoelectric effect and a complete theory predicting discrete energy levels of electron orbitals, led to the theory of quantum mechanics taking over from classical physics at very small scales.
Quantum mechanics would come to be pioneered by Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger and Paul Dirac. From this early work, and work in related fields, the Standard Model of particle physics was derived. Following the discovery of a particle with properties consistent with the Higgs boson at CERN in 2012, all fundamental particles predicted by the standard model, and no others, appear to exist; however, physics beyond the Standard Model, with theories such as supersymmetry, is an active area of research. Areas of mathematics in general are important to this field, such as the study of probabilities and groups.
In many ways, physics stems from ancient Greek philosophy. From Thales' first attempt to characterise matter, to Democritus' deduction that matter ought to reduce to an invariant state, the Ptolemaic astronomy of a crystalline firmament, and Aristotle's book Physics (an early book on physics, which attempted to analyze and define motion from a philosophical point of view), various Greek philosophers advanced their own theories of nature. Physics was known as natural philosophy until the late 18th century.
By the 19th century, physics was realised as a discipline distinct from philosophy and the other sciences. Physics, as with the rest of science, relies on philosophy of science and its "scientific method" to advance our knowledge of the physical world. The scientific method employs a priori reasoning as well as a posteriori reasoning and the use of Bayesian inference to measure the validity of a given theory.
The development of physics has answered many questions of early philosophers, but has also raised new questions. Study of the philosophical issues surrounding physics, the philosophy of physics, involves issues such as the nature of space and time, determinism, and metaphysical outlooks such as empiricism, naturalism and realism.
Many physicists have written about the philosophical implications of their work, for instance Laplace, who championed causal determinism, and Erwin Schrödinger, who wrote on quantum mechanics. The mathematical physicist Roger Penrose had been called a Platonist by Stephen Hawking, a view Penrose discusses in his book, The Road to Reality. Hawking referred to himself as an "unashamed reductionist" and took issue with Penrose's views.
Though physics deals with a wide variety of systems, certain theories are used by all physicists. Each of these theories were experimentally tested numerous times and found to be an adequate approximation of nature. For instance, the theory of classical mechanics accurately describes the motion of objects, provided they are much larger than atoms and moving at much less than the speed of light. These theories continue to be areas of active research today. Chaos theory, a remarkable aspect of classical mechanics was discovered in the 20th century, three centuries after the original formulation of classical mechanics by Isaac Newton (1642–1727).
These central theories are important tools for research into more specialised topics, and any physicist, regardless of their specialisation, is expected to be literate in them. These include classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, electromagnetism, and special relativity.
Classical physics includes the traditional branches and topics that were recognised and well-developed before the beginning of the 20th century—classical mechanics, acoustics, optics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism. Classical mechanics is concerned with bodies acted on by forces and bodies in motion and may be divided into statics (study of the forces on a body or bodies not subject to an acceleration), kinematics (study of motion without regard to its causes), and dynamics (study of motion and the forces that affect it); mechanics may also be divided into solid mechanics and fluid mechanics (known together as continuum mechanics), the latter include such branches as hydrostatics, hydrodynamics, aerodynamics, and pneumatics. Acoustics is the study of how sound is produced, controlled, transmitted and received. Important modern branches of acoustics include ultrasonics, the study of sound waves of very high frequency beyond the range of human hearing; bioacoustics, the physics of animal calls and hearing, and electroacoustics, the manipulation of audible sound waves using electronics.
Optics, the study of light, is concerned not only with visible light but also with infrared and ultraviolet radiation, which exhibit all of the phenomena of visible light except visibility, e.g., reflection, refraction, interference, diffraction, dispersion, and polarization of light. Heat is a form of energy, the internal energy possessed by the particles of which a substance is composed; thermodynamics deals with the relationships between heat and other forms of energy. Electricity and magnetism have been studied as a single branch of physics since the intimate connection between them was discovered in the early 19th century; an electric current gives rise to a magnetic field, and a changing magnetic field induces an electric current. Electrostatics deals with electric charges at rest, electrodynamics with moving charges, and magnetostatics with magnetic poles at rest.
Classical physics is generally concerned with matter and energy on the normal scale of observation, while much of modern physics is concerned with the behavior of matter and energy under extreme conditions or on a very large or very small scale. For example, atomic and nuclear physics studies matter on the smallest scale at which chemical elements can be identified. The physics of elementary particles is on an even smaller scale since it is concerned with the most basic units of matter; this branch of physics is also known as high-energy physics because of the extremely high energies necessary to produce many types of particles in particle accelerators. On this scale, ordinary, commonsense notions of space, time, matter, and energy are no longer valid.
The two chief theories of modern physics present a different picture of the concepts of space, time, and matter from that presented by classical physics. Classical mechanics approximates nature as continuous, while quantum theory is concerned with the discrete nature of many phenomena at the atomic and subatomic level and with the complementary aspects of particles and waves in the description of such phenomena. The theory of relativity is concerned with the description of phenomena that take place in a frame of reference that is in motion with respect to an observer; the special theory of relativity is concerned with motion in the absence of gravitational fields and the general theory of relativity with motion and its connection with gravitation. Both quantum theory and the theory of relativity find applications in all areas of modern physics.
While physics aims to discover universal laws, its theories lie in explicit domains of applicability. Loosely speaking, the laws of classical physics accurately describe systems whose important length scales are greater than the atomic scale and whose motions are much slower than the speed of light. Outside of this domain, observations do not match predictions provided by classical mechanics. Albert Einstein contributed the framework of special relativity, which replaced notions of absolute time and space with spacetime and allowed an accurate description of systems whose components have speeds approaching the speed of light. Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger, and others introduced quantum mechanics, a probabilistic notion of particles and interactions that allowed an accurate description of atomic and subatomic scales. Later, quantum field theory unified quantum mechanics and special relativity. General relativity allowed for a dynamical, curved spacetime, with which highly massive systems and the large-scale structure of the universe can be well-described. General relativity has not yet been unified with the other fundamental descriptions; several candidate theories of quantum gravity are being developed.
Physics uses mathematics to organise and formulate experimental results. From those results, precise or estimated solutions are obtained, quantitative results from which new predictions can be made and experimentally confirmed or negated. The results from physics experiments are numerical data, with their units of measure and estimates of the errors in the measurements. Technologies based on mathematics, like computation have made computational physics an active area of research.
Ontology is a prerequisite for physics, but not for mathematics. It means physics is ultimately concerned with descriptions of the real world, while mathematics is concerned with abstract patterns, even beyond the real world. Thus physics statements are synthetic, while mathematical statements are analytic. Mathematics contains hypotheses, while physics contains theories. Mathematics statements have to be only logically true, while predictions of physics statements must match observed and experimental data.
The distinction is clear-cut, but not always obvious. For example, mathematical physics is the application of mathematics in physics. Its methods are mathematical, but its subject is physical. The problems in this field start with a "mathematical model of a physical situation" (system) and a "mathematical description of a physical law" that will be applied to that system. Every mathematical statement used for solving has a hard-to-find physical meaning. The final mathematical solution has an easier-to-find meaning, because it is what the solver is looking for.
Physics is a branch of fundamental science, not practical science. Physics is also called "the fundamental science" because the subject of study of all branches of natural science like chemistry, astronomy, geology, and biology are constrained by laws of physics, similar to how chemistry is often called the central science because of its role in linking the physical sciences. For example, chemistry studies properties, structures, and reactions of matter (chemistry's focus on the atomic scale distinguishes it from physics). Structures are formed because particles exert electrical forces on each other, properties include physical characteristics of given substances, and reactions are bound by laws of physics, like conservation of energy, mass, and charge.
Physics is applied in industries like engineering and medicine.
Applied physics is a general term for physics research which is intended for a particular use. An applied physics curriculum usually contains a few classes in an applied discipline, like geology or electrical engineering. It usually differs from engineering in that an applied physicist may not be designing something in particular, but rather is using physics or conducting physics research with the aim of developing new technologies or solving a problem.
The approach is similar to that of applied mathematics. Applied physicists use physics in scientific research. For instance, people working on accelerator physics might seek to build better particle detectors for research in theoretical physics.
Physics is used heavily in engineering. For example, statics, a subfield of mechanics, is used in the building of bridges and other static structures. The understanding and use of acoustics results in sound control and better concert halls; similarly, the use of optics creates better optical devices. An understanding of physics makes for more realistic flight simulators, video games, and movies, and is often critical in forensic investigations.
With the standard consensus that the laws of physics are universal and do not change with time, physics can be used to study things that would ordinarily be mired in uncertainty. For example, in the study of the origin of the earth, one can reasonably model earth's mass, temperature, and rate of rotation, as a function of time allowing one to extrapolate forward or backward in time and so predict future or prior events. It also allows for simulations in engineering which drastically speed up the development of a new technology.
Physicists use the scientific method to test the validity of a physical theory. By using a methodical approach to compare the implications of a theory with the conclusions drawn from its related experiments and observations, physicists are better able to test the validity of a theory in a logical, unbiased, and repeatable way. To that end, experiments are performed and observations are made in order to determine the validity or invalidity of the theory.
Theorists seek to develop mathematical models that both agree with existing experiments and successfully predict future experimental results, while experimentalists devise and perform experiments to test theoretical predictions and explore new phenomena. Although theory and experiment are developed separately, they are strongly dependent upon each other. Progress in physics frequently comes about when experimentalists make a discovery that existing theories cannot explain, or when new theories generate experimentally testable predictions, which inspire new experiments.
Theoretical physics has historically taken inspiration from philosophy; electromagnetism was unified this way.[d] Beyond the known universe, the field of theoretical physics also deals with hypothetical issues,[e] such as parallel universes, a multiverse, and higher dimensions. Theorists invoke these ideas in hopes of solving particular problems with existing theories. They then explore the consequences of these ideas and work toward making testable predictions.
Experimental physics expands, and is expanded by, engineering and technology. Experimental physicists involved in basic research design and perform experiments with equipment such as particle accelerators and lasers, whereas those involved in applied research often work in industry developing technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and transistors. Feynman has noted that experimentalists may seek areas which are not well-explored by theorists.
Physics covers a wide range of phenomena, from elementary particles (such as quarks, neutrinos, and electrons) to the largest superclusters of galaxies. Included in these phenomena are the most basic objects composing all other things. Therefore, physics is sometimes called the "fundamental science". Physics aims to describe the various phenomena that occur in nature in terms of simpler phenomena. Thus, physics aims to both connect the things observable to humans to root causes, and then connect these causes together.
For example, the ancient Chinese observed that certain rocks (lodestone and magnetite) were attracted to one another by an invisible force. This effect was later called magnetism, which was first rigorously studied in the 17th century. But even before the Chinese discovered magnetism, the ancient Greeks knew of other objects such as amber, that when rubbed with fur would cause a similar invisible attraction between the two. This was also first studied rigorously in the 17th century and came to be called electricity. Thus, physics had come to understand two observations of nature in terms of some root cause (electricity and magnetism). However, further work in the 19th century revealed that these two forces were just two different aspects of one force—electromagnetism. This process of "unifying" forces continues today, and electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force are now considered to be two aspects of the electroweak interaction. Physics hopes to find an ultimate reason (Theory of Everything) for why nature is as it is (see section Current research below for more information).
Contemporary research in physics can be broadly divided into nuclear and particle physics; condensed matter physics; atomic, molecular, and optical physics; astrophysics; and applied physics. Some physics departments also support physics education research and physics outreach.
Since the 20th century, the individual fields of physics have become increasingly specialised, and today most physicists work in a single field for their entire careers. "Universalists" such as Albert Einstein (1879–1955) and Lev Landau (1908–1968), who worked in multiple fields of physics, are now very rare.[f]
The major fields of physics, along with their subfields and the theories and concepts they employ, are shown in the following table.
|Nuclear and particle physics||Nuclear physics, Nuclear astrophysics, Particle physics, Astroparticle physics, Particle physics phenomenology||Standard Model, Quantum field theory, Quantum electrodynamics, Quantum chromodynamics, Electroweak theory, Effective field theory, Lattice field theory, Lattice gauge theory, Gauge theory, Supersymmetry, Grand Unified Theory, Superstring theory, M-theory||Fundamental force (gravitational, electromagnetic, weak, strong), Elementary particle, Spin, Antimatter, Spontaneous symmetry breaking, Neutrino oscillation, Seesaw mechanism, Brane, String, Quantum gravity, Theory of everything, Vacuum energy|
|Atomic, molecular, and optical physics||Atomic physics, Molecular physics, Atomic and molecular astrophysics, Chemical physics, Optics, Photonics||Quantum optics, Quantum chemistry, Quantum information science||Photon, Atom, Molecule, Diffraction, Electromagnetic radiation, Laser, Polarization (waves), Spectral line, Casimir effect|
|Condensed matter physics||Solid-state physics, High-pressure physics, Low-temperature physics, Surface physics, Nanoscale and mesoscopic physics, Polymer physics||BCS theory, Bloch wave, Density functional theory, Fermi gas, Fermi liquid theory, Many-body theory, Statistical mechanics||Phases (gas, liquid, solid), Bose–Einstein condensate, Electrical conduction, Phonon, Magnetism, Self-organization, Semiconductor, superconductor, superfluidity, Spin,|
|Astrophysics||Astronomy, Astrometry, Cosmology, Gravitation physics, High-energy astrophysics, Planetary astrophysics, Plasma physics, Solar physics, Space physics, Stellar astrophysics||Big Bang, Cosmic inflation, General relativity, Newton's law of universal gravitation, Lambda-CDM model, Magnetohydrodynamics||Black hole, Cosmic background radiation, Cosmic string, Cosmos, Dark energy, Dark matter, Galaxy, Gravity, Gravitational radiation, Gravitational singularity, Planet, Solar System, Star, Supernova, Universe|
|Applied physics||Accelerator physics, Acoustics, Agrophysics, Biophysics, Chemical physics, Communication physics, Econophysics, Engineering physics, Fluid dynamics, Geophysics, Laser physics, Materials physics, Medical physics, Nanotechnology, Optics, Optoelectronics, Photonics, Photovoltaics, Physical chemistry, Physics of computation, Plasma physics, Solid-state devices, Quantum chemistry, Quantum electronics, Quantum information science, Vehicle dynamics|
Particle physics is the study of the elementary constituents of matter and energy and the interactions between them. In addition, particle physicists design and develop the high energy accelerators, detectors, and computer programs necessary for this research. The field is also called "high-energy physics" because many elementary particles do not occur naturally but are created only during high-energy collisions of other particles.
Currently, the interactions of elementary particles and fields are described by the Standard Model. The model accounts for the 12 known particles of matter (quarks and leptons) that interact via the strong, weak, and electromagnetic fundamental forces. Dynamics are described in terms of matter particles exchanging gauge bosons (gluons, W and Z bosons, and photons, respectively). The Standard Model also predicts a particle known as the Higgs boson. In July 2012 CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics, announced the detection of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson, an integral part of a Higgs mechanism.
Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies the constituents and interactions of atomic nuclei. The most commonly known applications of nuclear physics are nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons technology, but the research has provided application in many fields, including those in nuclear medicine and magnetic resonance imaging, ion implantation in materials engineering, and radiocarbon dating in geology and archaeology.
Atomic, molecular, and optical physics (AMO) is the study of matter–matter and light–matter interactions on the scale of single atoms and molecules. The three areas are grouped together because of their interrelationships, the similarity of methods used, and the commonality of their relevant energy scales. All three areas include both classical, semi-classical and quantum treatments; they can treat their subject from a microscopic view (in contrast to a macroscopic view).
Atomic physics studies the electron shells of atoms. Current research focuses on activities in quantum control, cooling and trapping of atoms and ions, low-temperature collision dynamics and the effects of electron correlation on structure and dynamics. Atomic physics is influenced by the nucleus (see, e.g., hyperfine splitting), but intra-nuclear phenomena such as fission and fusion are considered part of nuclear physics.
Molecular physics focuses on multi-atomic structures and their internal and external interactions with matter and light. Optical physics is distinct from optics in that it tends to focus not on the control of classical light fields by macroscopic objects but on the fundamental properties of optical fields and their interactions with matter in the microscopic realm.
Condensed matter physics is the field of physics that deals with the macroscopic physical properties of matter. In particular, it is concerned with the "condensed" phases that appear whenever the number of particles in a system is extremely large and the interactions between them are strong.
The most familiar examples of condensed phases are solids and liquids, which arise from the bonding by way of the electromagnetic force between atoms. More exotic condensed phases include the superfluid and the Bose–Einstein condensate found in certain atomic systems at very low temperature, the superconducting phase exhibited by conduction electrons in certain materials, and the ferromagnetic and antiferromagnetic phases of spins on atomic lattices.
Condensed matter physics is the largest field of contemporary physics. Historically, condensed matter physics grew out of solid-state physics, which is now considered one of its main subfields. The term condensed matter physics was apparently coined by Philip Anderson when he renamed his research group—previously solid-state theory—in 1967. In 1978, the Division of Solid State Physics of the American Physical Society was renamed as the Division of Condensed Matter Physics. Condensed matter physics has a large overlap with chemistry, materials science, nanotechnology and engineering.
Astrophysics and astronomy are the application of the theories and methods of physics to the study of stellar structure, stellar evolution, the origin of the Solar System, and related problems of cosmology. Because astrophysics is a broad subject, astrophysicists typically apply many disciplines of physics, including mechanics, electromagnetism, statistical mechanics, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, relativity, nuclear and particle physics, and atomic and molecular physics.
The discovery by Karl Jansky in 1931 that radio signals were emitted by celestial bodies initiated the science of radio astronomy. Most recently, the frontiers of astronomy have been expanded by space exploration. Perturbations and interference from the earth's atmosphere make space-based observations necessary for infrared, ultraviolet, gamma-ray, and X-ray astronomy.
Physical cosmology is the study of the formation and evolution of the universe on its largest scales. Albert Einstein's theory of relativity plays a central role in all modern cosmological theories. In the early 20th century, Hubble's discovery that the universe is expanding, as shown by the Hubble diagram, prompted rival explanations known as the steady state universe and the Big Bang.
The Big Bang was confirmed by the success of Big Bang nucleosynthesis and the discovery of the cosmic microwave background in 1964. The Big Bang model rests on two theoretical pillars: Albert Einstein's general relativity and the cosmological principle. Cosmologists have recently established the ΛCDM model of the evolution of the universe, which includes cosmic inflation, dark energy, and dark matter.
Numerous possibilities and discoveries are anticipated to emerge from new data from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope over the upcoming decade and vastly revise or clarify existing models of the universe. In particular, the potential for a tremendous discovery surrounding dark matter is possible over the next several years. Fermi will search for evidence that dark matter is composed of weakly interacting massive particles, complementing similar experiments with the Large Hadron Collider and other underground detectors.
IBEX is already yielding new astrophysical discoveries: "No one knows what is creating the ENA (energetic neutral atoms) ribbon" along the termination shock of the solar wind, "but everyone agrees that it means the textbook picture of the heliosphere—in which the Solar System's enveloping pocket filled with the solar wind's charged particles is plowing through the onrushing 'galactic wind' of the interstellar medium in the shape of a comet—is wrong."
Research in physics is continually progressing on a large number of fronts.
In condensed matter physics, an important unsolved theoretical problem is that of high-temperature superconductivity. Many condensed matter experiments are aiming to fabricate workable spintronics and quantum computers.
In particle physics, the first pieces of experimental evidence for physics beyond the Standard Model have begun to appear. Foremost among these are indications that neutrinos have non-zero mass. These experimental results appear to have solved the long-standing solar neutrino problem, and the physics of massive neutrinos remains an area of active theoretical and experimental research. The Large Hadron Collider has already found the Higgs Boson, but future research aims to prove or disprove the supersymmetry, which extends the Standard Model of particle physics. Research on the nature of the major mysteries of dark matter and dark energy is also currently ongoing.
Theoretical attempts to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity into a single theory of quantum gravity, a program ongoing for over half a century, have not yet been decisively resolved. The current leading candidates are M-theory, superstring theory and loop quantum gravity.
Many astronomical and cosmological phenomena have yet to be satisfactorily explained, including the origin of ultra-high energy cosmic rays, the baryon asymmetry, the acceleration of the universe and the anomalous rotation rates of galaxies.
Although much progress has been made in high-energy, quantum, and astronomical physics, many everyday phenomena involving complexity, chaos, or turbulence are still poorly understood. Complex problems that seem like they could be solved by a clever application of dynamics and mechanics remain unsolved; examples include the formation of sandpiles, nodes in trickling water, the shape of water droplets, mechanisms of surface tension catastrophes, and self-sorting in shaken heterogeneous collections.
These complex phenomena have received growing attention since the 1970s for several reasons, including the availability of modern mathematical methods and computers, which enabled complex systems to be modeled in new ways. Complex physics has become part of increasingly interdisciplinary research, as exemplified by the study of turbulence in aerodynamics and the observation of pattern formation in biological systems. In the 1932 Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics, Horace Lamb said:
I am an old man now, and when I die and go to heaven there are two matters on which I hope for enlightenment. One is quantum electrodynamics, and the other is the turbulent motion of fluids. And about the former I am rather optimistic.
mathematical physics — that is, the application of mathematics to problems in physics and the development of mathematical methods suitable for such applications and for the formulation of physical theories.
Richard Feynman said that 'Turbulence is the most important unsolved problem of classical physics'
Physics is the study of your world and the world and universe around you.
Online course learning resourcesAlbert Einstein
Albert Einstein ( EYEN-styne; German: [ˈalbɛɐ̯t ˈʔaɪnʃtaɪn] (listen); 14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics (alongside quantum mechanics). His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science. He is best known to the general public for his mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2, which has been dubbed "the world's most famous equation". He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect", a pivotal step in the development of quantum theory.
Near the beginning of his career, Einstein thought that Newtonian mechanics was no longer enough to reconcile the laws of classical mechanics with the laws of the electromagnetic field. This led him to develop his special theory of relativity during his time at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern (1902–1909). However, he realized that the principle of relativity could also be extended to gravitational fields, and he published a paper on general relativity in 1916 with his theory of gravitation. He continued to deal with problems of statistical mechanics and quantum theory, which led to his explanations of particle theory and the motion of molecules. He also investigated the thermal properties of light which laid the foundation of the photon theory of light. In 1917, he applied the general theory of relativity to model the structure of the universe.Except for one year in Prague, Einstein lived in Switzerland between 1895 and 1914, during which time he renounced his German citizenship in 1896, then received his academic diploma from the Swiss federal polytechnic school (later the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, ETH) in Zürich in 1900. After being stateless for more than five years, he acquired Swiss citizenship in 1901, which he kept for the rest of his life. In 1905, he was awarded a PhD by the University of Zurich. The same year, he published four groundbreaking papers during his renowned annus mirabilis (miracle year) which brought him to the notice of the academic world at the age of 26. Einstein taught theoretical physics at Zurich between 1912 and 1914 before he left for Berlin, where he was elected to the Prussian Academy of Sciences.
In 1933, while Einstein was visiting the United States, Adolf Hitler came to power. Because of his Jewish background, Einstein did not return to Germany. He settled in the United States and became an American citizen in 1940. On the eve of World War II, he endorsed a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt alerting him to the potential development of "extremely powerful bombs of a new type" and recommending that the US begin similar research. This eventually led to the Manhattan Project. Einstein supported the Allies, but he generally denounced the idea of using nuclear fission as a weapon. He signed the Russell–Einstein Manifesto with British philosopher Bertrand Russell, which highlighted the danger of nuclear weapons. He was affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, until his death in 1955.
Einstein published more than 300 scientific papers and more than 150 non-scientific works. His intellectual achievements and originality have made the word "Einstein" synonymous with "genius".Astrophysics
Astrophysics is the branch of astronomy that employs the principles of physics and chemistry "to ascertain the nature of the astronomical objects, rather than their positions or motions in space". Among the objects studied are the Sun, other stars, galaxies, extrasolar planets, the interstellar medium and the cosmic microwave background. Emissions from these objects are examined across all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, and the properties examined include luminosity, density, temperature, and chemical composition. Because astrophysics is a very broad subject, astrophysicists apply concepts and methods from many disciplines of physics, including mechanics, electromagnetism, statistical mechanics, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, relativity, nuclear and particle physics, and atomic and molecular physics.
In practice, modern astronomical research often involves a substantial amount of work in the realms of theoretical and observational physics. Some areas of study for astrophysicists include their attempts to determine the properties of dark matter, dark energy, and black holes; whether or not time travel is possible, wormholes can form, or the multiverse exists; and the origin and ultimate fate of the universe. Topics also studied by theoretical astrophysicists include Solar System formation and evolution; stellar dynamics and evolution; galaxy formation and evolution; magnetohydrodynamics; large-scale structure of matter in the universe; origin of cosmic rays; general relativity and physical cosmology, including string cosmology and astroparticle physics.CERN
The European Organization for Nuclear Research (French: Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire), known as CERN (; French pronunciation: [sɛʁn]; derived from the name Conseil européen pour la recherche nucléaire), is a European research organization that operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world. Established in 1954, the organization is based in a northwest suburb of Geneva on the Franco–Swiss border and has 22 member states. Israel is the only non-European country granted full membership. CERN is an official United Nations Observer.The acronym CERN is also used to refer to the laboratory, which in 2016 had 2,500 scientific, technical, and administrative staff members, and hosted about 12,000 users. In the same year, CERN generated 49 petabytes of data.CERN's main function is to provide the particle accelerators and other infrastructure needed for high-energy physics research – as a result, numerous experiments have been constructed at CERN through international collaborations. The main site at Meyrin hosts a large computing facility, which is primarily used to store and analyse data from experiments, as well as simulate events. Researchers need remote access to these facilities, so the lab has historically been a major wide area network hub. CERN is also the birthplace of the World Wide Web.Electromagnetism
Electromagnetism is a branch of physics involving the study of the electromagnetic force, a type of physical interaction that occurs between electrically charged particles. The electromagnetic force usually exhibits electromagnetic fields such as electric fields, magnetic fields, and light, and is one of the four fundamental interactions (commonly called forces) in nature. The other three fundamental interactions are the strong interaction, the weak interaction, and gravitation. At high energy the weak force and electromagnetic force are unified as a single electroweak force.
Electromagnetic phenomena are defined in terms of the electromagnetic force, sometimes called the Lorentz force, which includes both electricity and magnetism as different manifestations of the same phenomenon. The electromagnetic force plays a major role in determining the internal properties of most objects encountered in daily life. Ordinary matter takes its form as a result of intermolecular forces between individual atoms and molecules in matter, and is a manifestation of the electromagnetic force. Electrons are bound by the electromagnetic force to atomic nuclei, and their orbital shapes and their influence on nearby atoms with their electrons is described by quantum mechanics. The electromagnetic force governs all chemical processes, which arise from interactions between the electrons of neighboring atoms.
There are numerous mathematical descriptions of the electromagnetic field. In classical electrodynamics, electric fields are described as electric potential and electric current. In Faraday's law, magnetic fields are associated with electromagnetic induction and magnetism, and Maxwell's equations describe how electric and magnetic fields are generated and altered by each other and by charges and currents.
The theoretical implications of electromagnetism, particularly the establishment of the speed of light based on properties of the "medium" of propagation (permeability and permittivity), led to the development of special relativity by Albert Einstein in 1905.Energy
In physics, energy is the quantitative property that must be transferred to an object in order to perform work on, or to heat, the object. Energy is a conserved quantity; the law of conservation of energy states that energy can be converted in form, but not created or destroyed. The SI unit of energy is the joule, which is the energy transferred to an object by the work of moving it a distance of 1 metre against a force of 1 newton.
Common forms of energy include the kinetic energy of a moving object, the potential energy stored by an object's position in a force field (gravitational, electric or magnetic), the elastic energy stored by stretching solid objects, the chemical energy released when a fuel burns, the radiant energy carried by light, and the thermal energy due to an object's temperature.
Mass and energy are closely related. Due to mass–energy equivalence, any object that has mass when stationary (called rest mass) also has an equivalent amount of energy whose form is called rest energy, and any additional energy (of any form) acquired by the object above that rest energy will increase the object's total mass just as it increases its total energy. For example, after heating an object, its increase in energy could be measured as a small increase in mass, with a sensitive enough scale.
Living organisms require available energy to stay alive, such as the energy humans get from food. Human civilization requires energy to function, which it gets from energy resources such as fossil fuels, nuclear fuel, or renewable energy. The processes of Earth's climate and ecosystem are driven by the radiant energy Earth receives from the sun and the geothermal energy contained within the earth.Gravity
Gravity (from Latin gravitas, meaning 'weight'), or gravitation, is a natural phenomenon by which all things with mass or energy—including planets, stars, galaxies, and even light—are brought toward (or gravitate toward) one another. On Earth, gravity gives weight to physical objects, and the Moon's gravity causes the ocean tides. The gravitational attraction of the original gaseous matter present in the Universe caused it to begin coalescing, forming stars – and for the stars to group together into galaxies – so gravity is responsible for many of the large-scale structures in the Universe. Gravity has an infinite range, although its effects become increasingly weaker on farther objects.
Gravity is most accurately described by the general theory of relativity (proposed by Albert Einstein in 1915) which describes gravity not as a force, but as a consequence of the curvature of spacetime caused by the uneven distribution of mass. The most extreme example of this curvature of spacetime is a black hole, from which nothing—not even light—can escape once past the black hole's event horizon. However, for most applications, gravity is well approximated by Newton's law of universal gravitation, which describes gravity as a force which causes any two bodies to be attracted to each other, with the force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.
Gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental forces of physics, approximately 1038 times weaker than the strong force, 1036 times weaker than the electromagnetic force and 1029 times weaker than the weak force. As a consequence, it has no significant influence at the level of subatomic particles. In contrast, it is the dominant force at the macroscopic scale, and is the cause of the formation, shape and trajectory (orbit) of astronomical bodies. For example, gravity causes the Earth and the other planets to orbit the Sun, it also causes the Moon to orbit the Earth, and causes the formation of tides, the formation and evolution of the Solar System, stars and galaxies.
The earliest instance of gravity in the Universe, possibly in the form of quantum gravity, supergravity or a gravitational singularity, along with ordinary space and time, developed during the Planck epoch (up to 10−43 seconds after the birth of the Universe), possibly from a primeval state, such as a false vacuum, quantum vacuum or virtual particle, in a currently unknown manner. Attempts to develop a theory of gravity consistent with quantum mechanics, a quantum gravity theory, which would allow gravity to be united in a common mathematical framework (a theory of everything) with the other three forces of physics, are a current area of research.Marie Curie
Marie Skłodowska Curie (; French: [kyʁi]; Polish: [kʲiˈri]; born Maria Salomea Skłodowska; 7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934) was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences. She was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.
She was born in Warsaw, in what was then the Kingdom of Poland, part of the Russian Empire. She studied at Warsaw's clandestine Flying University and began her practical scientific training in Warsaw. In 1891, aged 24, she followed her older sister Bronisława to study in Paris, where she earned her higher degrees and conducted her subsequent scientific work. She shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband Pierre Curie and physicist Henri Becquerel. She won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Her achievements included the development of the theory of radioactivity (a term that she coined), techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two elements, polonium and radium. Under her direction, the world's first studies into the treatment of neoplasms were conducted using radioactive isotopes. She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and in Warsaw, which remain major centres of medical research today. During World War I she developed mobile radiography units to provide X-ray services to field hospitals.
While a French citizen, Marie Skłodowska Curie, who used both surnames, never lost her sense of Polish identity. She taught her daughters the Polish language and took them on visits to Poland. She named the first chemical element she discovered polonium, after her native country.Marie Curie died in 1934, aged 66, at a sanatorium in Sancellemoz (Haute-Savoie), France, of aplastic anemia from exposure to radiation in the course of her scientific research and in the course of her radiological work at field hospitals during World War I.Nobel Prize in Physics
The Nobel Prize in Physics (Swedish: Nobelpriset i fysik) is a yearly award given by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for those who have made the most outstanding contributions for humankind in the field of physics. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895 and awarded since 1901; the others being the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Nobel Prize in Literature, Nobel Peace Prize, and Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
The first Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to physicist Wilhelm Röntgen in recognition of the extraordinary services he rendered by the discovery of the remarkable rays (or x-rays). This award is administered by the Nobel Foundation and widely regarded as the most prestigious award that a scientist can receive in physics. It is presented in Stockholm at an annual ceremony on 10 December, the anniversary of Nobel's death. Through 2018, a total of 209 individuals have been awarded the prize.Only three women (1.4% of laureates) have won the Nobel Prize in Physics: Marie Curie in 1903, Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963, and Donna Strickland in 2018.Nuclear physics
Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies atomic nuclei and their constituents and interactions. Other forms of nuclear matter are also studied.
Nuclear physics should not be confused with atomic physics, which studies the atom as a whole, including its electrons.
Discoveries in nuclear physics have led to applications in many fields. This includes nuclear power, nuclear weapons, nuclear medicine and magnetic resonance imaging, industrial and agricultural isotopes, ion implantation in materials engineering, and radiocarbon dating in geology and archaeology. Such applications are studied in the field of nuclear engineering.
Particle physics evolved out of nuclear physics and the two fields are typically taught in close association. Nuclear astrophysics, the application of nuclear physics to astrophysics, is crucial in explaining the inner workings of stars and the origin of the chemical elements.Particle physics
Particle physics (also known as high energy physics) is a branch of physics that studies the nature of the particles that constitute matter and radiation. Although the word particle can refer to various types of very small objects (e.g. protons, gas particles, or even household dust), particle physics usually investigates the irreducibly smallest detectable particles and the fundamental interactions necessary to explain their behaviour. By our current understanding, these elementary particles are excitations of the quantum fields that also govern their interactions. The currently dominant theory explaining these fundamental particles and fields, along with their dynamics, is called the Standard Model. Thus, modern particle physics generally investigates the Standard Model and its various possible extensions, e.g. to the newest "known" particle, the Higgs boson, or even to the oldest known force field, gravity.Physicist
A physicist is a scientist who specializes in the field of physics, which encompasses the interactions of matter and energy at all length and time scales in the physical universe.
Physicists generally are interested in the root or ultimate causes of phenomena, and usually frame their understanding in mathematical terms.
Physicists work across a wide range of research fields, spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic and particle physics, through biological physics, to cosmological length scales encompassing the universe as a whole.
The field generally includes two types of physicists: experimental physicists who specialize in the observation of physical phenomena and the analysis of experiments, and theoretical physicists who specialize in mathematical modeling of physical systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena.
Physicists can apply their knowledge towards solving practical problems or to developing new technologies (also known as applied physics or engineering physics).Plasma (physics)
Plasma (from Ancient Greek πλάσμα, meaning 'moldable substance') is one of the four fundamental states of matter, and was first described by chemist Irving Langmuir in the 1920s. Plasma can be artificially generated by heating or subjecting a neutral gas to a strong electromagnetic field to the point where an ionized gaseous substance becomes increasingly electrically conductive, and long-range electromagnetic fields dominate the behaviour of the matter.Plasma and ionized gases have properties and display behaviours unlike those of the other states, and the transition between them is mostly a matter of nomenclature and subject to interpretation. Based on the surrounding environmental temperature and density, partially ionized or fully ionized forms of plasma may be produced. Neon signs and lightning are examples of partially ionized plasma. The Earth's ionosphere is a plasma and the magnetosphere contains plasma in the Earth's surrounding space environment. The interior of the Sun is an example of fully ionized plasma, along with the solar corona and stars.Positive charges in ions are achieved by stripping away electrons orbiting the atomic nuclei, where the total number of electrons removed is related to either increasing temperature or the local density of other ionized matter. This also can be accompanied by the dissociation of molecular bonds, though this process is distinctly different from chemical processes of ion interactions in liquids or the behaviour of shared ions in metals. The response of plasma to electromagnetic fields is used in many modern technological devices, such as plasma televisions or plasma etching.Plasma may be the most abundant form of ordinary matter in the universe, although this hypothesis is currently tentative based on the existence and unknown properties of dark matter. Plasma is mostly associated with stars, extending to the rarefied intracluster medium and possibly the intergalactic regions.Power (physics)
In physics, power is the rate of doing work or of transferring heat, i.e. the amount of energy transferred or converted per unit time. Having no direction, it is a scalar quantity. In the International System of Units, the unit of power is the joule per second (J/s), known as the watt in honour of James Watt, the eighteenth-century developer of the condenser steam engine. Another common and traditional measure is horsepower (comparing to the power of a horse). Being the rate of work, the equation for power can be written:
As a physical concept, power requires both a change in the physical system and a specified time in which the change occurs. This is distinct from the concept of work, which is only measured in terms of a net change in the state of the physical system. The same amount of work is done when carrying a load up a flight of stairs whether the person carrying it walks or runs, but more power is needed for running because the work is done in a shorter amount of time.
The output power of an electric motor is the product of the torque that the motor generates and the angular velocity of its output shaft. The power involved in moving a vehicle is the product of the traction force of the wheels and the velocity of the vehicle. The rate at which a light bulb converts electrical energy into light and heat is measured in watts—the higher the wattage, the more power, or equivalently the more electrical energy is used per unit time.Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics (QM; also known as quantum physics, quantum theory, the wave mechanical model, or matrix mechanics), including quantum field theory, is a fundamental theory in physics which describes nature at the smallest scales of energy levels of atoms and subatomic particles.Classical physics, the physics existing before quantum mechanics, describes nature at ordinary (macroscopic) scale. Most theories in classical physics can be derived from quantum mechanics as an approximation valid at large (macroscopic) scale.
Quantum mechanics differs from classical physics in that energy, momentum, angular momentum and other quantities of a bound system are restricted to discrete values (quantization); objects have characteristics of both particles and waves (wave-particle duality); and there are limits to the precision with which quantities can be measured (uncertainty principle).Quantum mechanics gradually arose from theories to explain observations which could not be reconciled with classical physics, such as Max Planck's solution in 1900 to the black-body radiation problem, and from the correspondence between energy and frequency in Albert Einstein's 1905 paper which explained the photoelectric effect. Early quantum theory was profoundly re-conceived in the mid-1920s by Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Max Born and others. The modern theory is formulated in various specially developed mathematical formalisms. In one of them, a mathematical function, the wave function, provides information about the probability amplitude of position, momentum, and other physical properties of a particle.
Important applications of quantum theory include quantum chemistry, quantum optics, quantum computing, superconducting magnets, light-emitting diodes, and the laser, the transistor and semiconductors such as the microprocessor, medical and research imaging such as magnetic resonance imaging and electron microscopy. Explanations for many biological and physical phenomena are rooted in the nature of the chemical bond, most notably the macro-molecule DNA.Richard Feynman
Richard Phillips Feynman (; May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988) was an American theoretical physicist, known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as in particle physics for which he proposed the parton model. For his contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman, jointly with Julian Schwinger and Shin'ichirō Tomonaga, received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.
Feynman developed a widely used pictorial representation scheme for the mathematical expressions describing the behavior of subatomic particles, which later became known as Feynman diagrams. During his lifetime, Feynman became one of the best-known scientists in the world. In a 1999 poll of 130 leading physicists worldwide by the British journal Physics World he was ranked as one of the ten greatest physicists of all time.He assisted in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II and became known to a wide public in the 1980s as a member of the Rogers Commission, the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Along with his work in theoretical physics, Feynman has been credited with pioneering the field of quantum computing and introducing the concept of nanotechnology. He held the Richard C. Tolman professorship in theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology.
Feynman was a keen popularizer of physics through both books and lectures including a 1959 talk on top-down nanotechnology called There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom and the three-volume publication of his undergraduate lectures, The Feynman Lectures on Physics. Feynman also became known through his semi-autobiographical books Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think? and books written about him such as Tuva or Bust! by Ralph Leighton and the biography Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick.Semiconductor
A semiconductor material has an electrical conductivity value falling between that of a metal, like copper, gold, etc. and an insulator, such as glass. Their resistance decreases as their temperature increases, which is behaviour opposite to that of a metal. Their conducting properties may be altered in useful ways by the deliberate, controlled introduction of impurities ("doping") into the crystal structure. Where two differently-doped regions exist in the same crystal, a semiconductor junction is created. The behavior of charge carriers which include electrons, ions and electron holes at these junctions is the basis of diodes, transistors and all modern electronics. Some examples of semiconductors are silicon, germanium, and gallium arsenide. After silicon, gallium arsenide is the second most common semiconductor used in laser diodes, solar cells, microwave frequency integrated circuits, and others. Silicon is a critical element for fabricating most electronic circuits.
Semiconductor devices can display a range of useful properties such as passing current more easily in one direction than the other, showing variable resistance, and sensitivity to light or heat. Because the electrical properties of a semiconductor material can be modified by doping, or by the application of electrical fields or light, devices made from semiconductors can be used for amplification, switching, and energy conversion.
The conductivity of silicon is increased by adding a small amount of pentavalent (antimony, phosphorus, or arsenic) or trivalent (boron, gallium, indium) atoms (part in 108). This process is known as doping and resulting semiconductors are known as doped or extrinsic semiconductors. Apart from doping, the conductivity of a semiconductor can equally be improved by increasing its temperature. This is contrary to the behaviour of a metal in which conductivity decreases with increase in temperature.
The modern understanding of the properties of a semiconductor relies on quantum physics to explain the movement of charge carriers in a crystal lattice. Doping greatly increases the number of charge carriers within the crystal. When a doped semiconductor contains mostly free holes it is called "p-type", and when it contains mostly free electrons it is known as "n-type". The semiconductor materials used in electronic devices are doped under precise conditions to control the concentration and regions of p- and n-type dopants. A single semiconductor crystal can have many p- and n-type regions; the p–n junctions between these regions are responsible for the useful electronic behavior.
Although some pure elements and many compounds display semiconductor properties, silicon, germanium, and compounds of gallium are the most widely used in electronic devices. Elements near the so-called "metalloid staircase", where the metalloids are located on the periodic table, are usually used as semiconductors.
Some of the properties of semiconductor materials were observed throughout the mid 19th and first decades of the 20th century. The first practical application of semiconductors in electronics was the 1904 development of the cat's-whisker detector, a primitive semiconductor diode used in early radio receivers. Developments in quantum physics in turn allowed the development of the transistor in 1947 and the integrated circuit in 1958.String theory
In physics, string theory is a theoretical framework in which the point-like particles of particle physics are replaced by one-dimensional objects called strings. It describes how these strings propagate through space and interact with each other. On distance scales larger than the string scale, a string looks just like an ordinary particle, with its mass, charge, and other properties determined by the vibrational state of the string. In string theory, one of the many vibrational states of the string corresponds to the graviton, a quantum mechanical particle that carries gravitational force. Thus string theory is a theory of quantum gravity.
String theory is a broad and varied subject that attempts to address a number of deep questions of fundamental physics. String theory has been applied to a variety of problems in black hole physics, early universe cosmology, nuclear physics, and condensed matter physics, and it has stimulated a number of major developments in pure mathematics. Because string theory potentially provides a unified description of gravity and particle physics, it is a candidate for a theory of everything, a self-contained mathematical model that describes all fundamental forces and forms of matter. Despite much work on these problems, it is not known to what extent string theory describes the real world or how much freedom the theory allows in the choice of its details.
String theory was first studied in the late 1960s as a theory of the strong nuclear force, before being abandoned in favor of quantum chromodynamics. Subsequently, it was realized that the very properties that made string theory unsuitable as a theory of nuclear physics made it a promising candidate for a quantum theory of gravity. The earliest version of string theory, bosonic string theory, incorporated only the class of particles known as bosons. It later developed into superstring theory, which posits a connection called supersymmetry between bosons and the class of particles called fermions. Five consistent versions of superstring theory were developed before it was conjectured in the mid-1990s that they were all different limiting cases of a single theory in eleven dimensions known as M-theory. In late 1997, theorists discovered an important relationship called the AdS/CFT correspondence, which relates string theory to another type of physical theory called a quantum field theory.
One of the challenges of string theory is that the full theory does not have a satisfactory definition in all circumstances. Another issue is that the theory is thought to describe an enormous landscape of possible universes, and this has complicated efforts to develop theories of particle physics based on string theory. These issues have led some in the community to criticize these approaches to physics and question the value of continued research on string theory unification.Theoretical physics
Theoretical physics is a branch of physics that employs mathematical models and abstractions of physical objects and systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. This is in contrast to experimental physics, which uses experimental tools to probe these phenomena.
The advancement of science generally depends on the interplay between experimental studies and theory. In some cases, theoretical physics adheres to standards of mathematical rigor while giving little weight to experiments and observations. For example, while developing special relativity, Albert Einstein was concerned with the Lorentz transformation which left Maxwell's equations invariant, but was apparently uninterested in the Michelson–Morley experiment on Earth's drift through a luminiferous ether. Conversely, Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for explaining the photoelectric effect, previously an experimental result lacking a theoretical formulation.Theory of relativity
The theory of relativity usually encompasses two interrelated theories by Albert Einstein: special relativity and general relativity. Special relativity applies to elementary particles and their interactions, describing all their physical phenomena except gravity. General relativity explains the law of gravitation and its relation to other forces of nature. It applies to the cosmological and astrophysical realm, including astronomy.The theory transformed theoretical physics and astronomy during the 20th century, superseding a 200-year-old theory of mechanics created primarily by Isaac Newton. It introduced concepts including spacetime as a unified entity of space and time, relativity of simultaneity, kinematic and gravitational time dilation, and length contraction. In the field of physics, relativity improved the science of elementary particles and their fundamental interactions, along with ushering in the nuclear age. With relativity, cosmology and astrophysics predicted extraordinary astronomical phenomena such as neutron stars, black holes, and gravitational waves.
The fundamental interactions of physics
Glossaries of science and engineering