There seems to be a general fear of physics and it stems from the fact that physical science is an interdisciplinary blend of two very intimidating subjects for school kids: math and science.
But these poor areas of study have been subjected to years of stigma that’s left their reputations in tatters.
Instead of math and science being seen as the gateway to invention and discovery, they have been demonised by pop culture and strike terror in the heart of most students.
We’re here to tell you it simply “ain’t true”.
Mathematics is an international language of our natural world and science is fun!
So let’s take a look at some incredible, mind-blowing, cooler than cool science facts.
The Science in Your Smart Phone
Who doesn’t have a smart phone? This little gadget that’s simply bursting with scientific innovation is perhaps the most universal example of the immense coolness of physics. Can you even imagine life without it? But how many of us appreciate the modern science that we hold in our hands every day?
I mean, do you even know how a touch-screen works? It’s almost magical when you think about it.
Let’s quickly take a step back...
Our Bodies Are Electrical
It’s true! The human anatomy is basically a living electrical science project.
Our neurons are sending messages throughout our nervous systems with the help of positive and negative charges. This is how our hearts keep beating rhythmically and these charges actually act as home security for each individual cell.
We can in fact see evidence of the electrical charge our bodies generate, with our very own eyes - static electricity.
The way a blanket crackles in the dry winter air or the flick you sometimes feel when you touch metal – that’s all a result of opposing electrical charges.
As we move about our day and perform certain tasks that cause friction (like walking on a carpet in stockings) we generate static which is ultimately a build up of electrons just waiting to be released. The result is those tiny crackles and shocks that we experience when we touch surfaces that have an opposing charge, such as a metal shopping trolley or a fleecy blanket.
The Power at Our Fingertips
An EEG (electroencephalograph) measures brain activity using the same principles that operate the function of the screen on a smartphone. Both EEGs and smartphones work on ionic currents.
Have you noticed that most touch screens won’t respond unless you trace your bare fingertips along the glass? The reason for this is that the technology relies on the electrons from your skin to react to the like-charged electrons in the screen!
Finding Your Way Is Relative
And did you know that our phones’ navigational technology is based heavily on Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity? GPS relies on three factors: energy, mass and time (speed) much like the famous physicist’s superb formula ... E = mc².
Unbeknown to most of us, our smart phones are constantly under the surveillance of satellites that are calibrated with great precision. They measure the distances we travel between signals that are pulsed at exacting intervals in order to plot our position on a map.
Physics Phenomena in Water
Let’s take a look at two aspects of physics that are easily observed in water: surface tension and light refraction.
To understand the concept of surface tension, all you need is jelly, really! You know the way jelly can wobble around but ultimately go back to its original shape? Well that ability is all thanks to surface tension.
It’s important to realise that floatation and surface tension are not the same thing. Floating has to do with buoyancy and is achieved when an object or substance is less dense than the substance (usually water) that it’s floating in.
The higher the concentration of gelatine in jelly the greater the surface tension, meaning that it takes effort to break the surface and take a bite. Ice cream, for instance, has very little surface tension.
Water also has surface tension, thanks to the fact that water molecules are attracted to each other. This means that as the inner molecules draw closer to one another they cause an inward net force that in turn causes the molecules on the surface to contract and resist stretching or breaking.
But how does light refraction fit in the picture? Well, the special thing about water is that each molecule also has its own surface tension which causes light refraction.
You can do a science project right now! All you will need is an empty glass and some water:
If you look through the empty glass you should be able to get a pretty accurate picture of what lies beyond the glass but if you look through that same glass, only filled with water, you’ll notice how the picture distorts a little. And that distortion is owed to light refraction.
Light travels slower in water, if this were not true then we’d be able to see the bottom of the ocean. Remember when they talk about the speed of light in classical physics, they’re referring to the speed of light within a vacuum.
The Discovery of Displacement
“Eureka – I’ve got it!” we all know the phrase, but not everyone knows that it stems from a scientific breakthrough that was all made possible because of water.
One of the great physicists in the history of science, Archimedes, was still grappling with a problem that the king had asked him to solve as he plunged himself into a bath. And then, all of a sudden, noticing the displacement of the water that was caused by the mass of his body, the penny dropped.
He needed a way to ascertain whether the king’s crown was indeed made of pure gold and not mixed with a lighter metal, such as silver. Per chance he’d stumbled across new scientific knowledge that led him to the answer, he could measure the density of the crown by calculating the displacement.
He leapt out the bath with elation, forgot all about his nakedness, and ran through the streets in the nude shouting “Eureka!”
What Is Science Without the Scientists?
All the aspiring scientists and physics geeks out there can relate, whether its molecular physics, astronomy or classical mechanics that fires you up – nothing could be greater than getting the chance to pick the brain of Leonardo da Vinci.
When it comes to great scientists, this generation has had the privilege of growing up with the scientific-method of the late, great Stephen Hawking. It’s very possible that in centuries to come avid physics students may wish they’d had the chance to discuss his Theory of Everything in person too.
For now though, we can ponder some of the most captivating branches of modern physics: cosmology as well as condensed matter physics – think black holes and dark matter.
Condensed Matter Physics
According to the theories of condensed matter – all of humanity could be condensed into the equivalent size of a sugar cube.
Because everyone’s made up of a bunch of atoms there’s essentially a lot of empty space between every atom, which means that if that space were to be removed, all the human race would amount to would be a single sugar cube of humanity (but a singularly heavy one at that - with infinite density).
The universe is so vast and truthfully we can only see about 5% of the universe, this is not for lack of better telescopes but merely because the universe is like a huge void, thus the term “space”. It’s believed that this void is filled with dark matter and dark energy.
In space there’s a scientifically recognised phenomena called quantum foam. It’s an idea really, describing what happens when you try to apply the theories of quantum mechanics to space and time that are actually wildly fluctuating and unpredictable entities of their own. And this causes what can only be described as a boiling cauldron of science on the most molecular level. This seemingly bubbling effect is aptly described as “foam”.
The theory of general relativity gives way to the prediction that if a mass is compact enough (like an imploding star) its gravity can have the ability to warp spacetime. The idea of the black hole would not be possible to comprehend if it were not for Einstein’s discovery of relativity.
However, Einstein himself wasn’t convinced of black holes existence stating that the idea was “not convincing” and that he believed they only existed in theory but not “in the real world”.
In fact, the term “black hole” was only coined in 1967 by the American astronomer John Wheeler.
Stephen Hawking is not only famous for postulating emission of radiation from black holes but he also suggested that black holes hold an imprinted memory of all the cosmic events they absorb.
Physics Is Limitless
Even if you aren’t yet an astrophysicist yourself, you can still appreciate the amazing discoveries that have been made through theoretical physics. From the statistical mathematics to electromagnetism, physics provides an endless supply of scientific inquiry!
And remember, physics isn’t just a collection of incomprehensible scientific theories and hypotheses or complicated equations.
Physics is the world we live in, our universe, all around us, every day.
It’s you and me and the incredible electrically charged physiology of our bodies. It’s the moon in the sky and the waves in the sea.
If you’re convinced that physics is the way for you then you have a lot of options to choose from when you start deciding on the science education you wish to pursue:
- solid state physics
- quantum electrodynamics
- mathematical physics
- nuclear physics
- applied physics
- particle physics
This physical world with its laws of nature still has so much unchartered territory waiting to be unravelled and understood.
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