Physics Concepts and Definitions

What is classical physics?
Answered by Science Channel
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    Science Channel

  1. Classical physics is a branch of physics in which matter and energy are two separate concepts. Based primarily on Sir Isaac Newton's laws of motion and James Clerk Maxwell's theory of electromagnetic radiation, classical physics is generally divided into several different areas. These areas include mechanics (looking at motion, objects and the forces that act on them), dynamics, hydrodynamics, statics, optics, thermodynamics (studying energy and heat) and acoustics, as well as the studies of the phenomena surrounding magnetism and electricity. The laws of conservation of mass, conservation of energy and conservation of momentum are also very important to classical physics. They state that mass and energy can be neither created nor destroyed, and the momentum of an object will only be changed if an outside force acts on it.

    Sometimes the year 1900 is used as a rough demarcation for the end of classical physics, coinciding with the year Max Planck began talking about small units of energy called quanta. Things, you could say, began to get really small in physics. The year 1900 onward -- everything from Einstein's work on special and general relativity, starting in 1905, all the way through quantum mechanics studies and string theory today --  is often placed under the heading of "modern" physics.

    In a very broad sense, classical physics can be thought of as physics on a macro scale; it explains the big, basic things of the world and does not drill down into the tiny world of molecules and atoms in order to describe how the world works. That's not to say, of course, that the two brands of physics don't ever cross-pollinate. Atmospheric sciences, and the math it employs, for example, relies heavily on the principles of classical physics, although it needs to use quantum theory from time to time as well [source: Univ. of Virginia].

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