Physics

How has physics changed our world?
Answered by Jacob Silverman and Science Channel
  • Jacob Silverman

    Jacob Silverman

  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. On a very basic level, physics affects every physical process in our world. In terms of our conception of the world around us, the development of physics as a fundamental scientific discipline has had profound consequences. From Archimedes to Isaac Newton, milestones in the study of the physical world have not only influenced the field of science but have also penetrated our everyday speech and how we see and interact with the world.

    Today, the field is largely divided between quantum and classical physics. Quantum physics, or quantum mechanics, looks at how energy behaves as a particle and wave simultaneously (famously embodied by Einstein's e=mc2 equation). This is the study of matter many millions of times smaller than anything the human eye can perceive. Quantum mechanics is, in some ways, inherently strange; it says that the laws of atoms are different than those of the physical world, and there's a certain cognitive dissonance required to apprehend these two disparate ideas.

    Most of us learn how physics affects our world in an intuitive way -- simple learning by doing. As children, we understand that when we push a toy across the floor, it'll move away from us, and that dropping a pillow means that it will fall to the ground. But it's only later, perhaps in high school, that we learn that a pushed toy will move forward until friction or a barrier stops it and that this phenomenon is described in Newton's Laws. Similarly, we only understand a bit later on that a pillow falls to the Earth because of gravity, another field in which Newton did historic research. In this way, physics affects our world always, but it is our way of understanding these physical effects (and learning how best to take advantage of them) that is open to change.

    circa 1925: Professor Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955), mathematical physicist at home. (General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

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  2. Applied physics is the branch you want if you're looking for real-life applications for physics knowledge. Laws of physics and engineering have been used to bring us TVs to watch, planes to fly, tall buildings to live in, and washing machines to get stains out of our clothing. Physics has advanced radiation therapy to treat cancer and improve food safety, and nuclear energy to power our homes.

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