Physics Introduction:

Physics (from the Greek “phusikos” meaning natural) is the study of nature in the most general
sense.  It defines the relationship between matter and energy in a quantitative way and
enables us to describe our world and all of the atoms, and subatomic particles within it using,
laws, theories and mathematics.  

The modern science of physics has been constructed over several centuries and consists of
empirical observation, and the subsequent explanation of the physical phenomena.  Physicists
have traditionally explained their observations in mathematical terms and thus enabled us to
understand the physical processes that underlie certain phenomena.  The mathematical
component of physics enables us to successfully predict the outcome of well defined physical
systems and it has allowed us to apply physics practically.

Much of our understanding of physical properties is divided into laws and theories.  Laws and
theories are different qualitatively but neither is necessarily more precise or more certain.  A
law, like Newton’s law of gravity, attempts to establish a quantitative relationship between
different experimental data.  A theory, like Einstein’s theory of general relativity, represents an
attempt to explain the relationships between laws in order to derive a comprehensive
understanding of different sets of empirical data.

Because physics describes the nature of our reality its application is universal.  It branches off
into many seemingly distinct but interrelated disciplines such as motion, optics, chemistry,
quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, and thermodynamics just to name a few.

One of the most pronounced trends in the history of physics has been the unification of
different fields of study.  For example, in 1855, James Clark Maxwell was able to show that
electricity and magnetism are inextricably related, and he unified the two “forces” using
mathematical formulae.  Scientists today continue to uncover the interrelations between
different laws and theories of energy.  It is the ultimate goal of physics to explain and verify how
everything in our experience is related.  Many refer to this hypothetical unification as the G.U.T.
or the grand unified field theory.

It is thought that there are four main forces that interact with each other to create what we
perceive as space, time, kinetic energy and matter (potential energy).  These four forces are
electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, the strong nuclear force and gravity.  Before the Big
Bang, and a few split seconds after it, these four forces were not dissociated as they are now.  
Scientists are trying to understand how each is related to the rest and currently it is the force of
gravity that is posing the biggest problem.

For a concise history of some of the major contributions to physics, please
click here.
Organization for the Advancement of   
Interdisciplinary Learning