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Chapter: 11th Physics : Nature of Physical World and Measurement

Physics: Introduction

The word ‘physics’ is derived from the Greek word “Fusis”, meaning nature.


The word ‘physics’ is derived from the Greek word “Fusis”, meaning nature. The study of nature and natural phenomena is dealt within physics. Hence physics is considered as the most basic of all sciences.

Unification and Reductionism are the two approaches in studying physics. Attempting to explain diverse physical phenomena with a few concepts and laws is unification. For example, Newton’s universal law of gravitation (in unit 6) explains the motion of freely falling bodies towards the Earth, motion of planets around the Sun, motion of the Moon around the Earth, thus unifying the fundamental forces of nature.

An attempt to explain a macroscopic system in terms of its microscopic constituents is reductionism. For example, thermodynamics (unit 8) was developed to explain macroscopic properties like temperature, entropy, etc., of bulk systems. The above properties have been interpreted in terms of the molecular constituents (microscopic) of the bulk system by kinetic theory (unit 9) and statistical mechanics.


Branches of Physics

Physics as a fundamental science helps to uncover the laws of nature. The language of its expression is mathematics. In ancient times, humans lived with nature - their lifestyles were integrated with nature. They could understand the signals from the movement of the Stars and other celestial bodies. They could determine the time to sow and reap by watching the sky. Thus, astronomy and mathematics were the first disciplines to be developed. The chronological development of various branches of physics is presented in Appendix A1.1. The various branches of physics are schematically shown in figure 1.1. The essential focus of different areas is given in Table 1.1.

Some of the fundamental concepts of basic areas of physics are discussed in higher secondary first year physics books volume 1 and 2. Mechanics is covered in unit 1 to 6. Unit 1 gives an idea of the development of physics along with discussion on basic elements such as measurement, units etc. Unit 2 gives the basic mathematics needed to express the impact of physical principles and their governing laws. The impact of forces acting on objects in terms of the fundamental laws of motion of Newton are very systematically covered in unit 3. Work and energy which are the basic parameters of investigation of the mechanical world are presented in unit 4. Unit 5 deals with the mechanics of rigid bodies (in contrast, objects are viewed as point objects in units 3 and 4). 

The basics of gravitation and its consequences are discussed in unit 6. Older branches of physics such as different properties of matter are discussed in unit 7.

The impact of heat and investigations of its consequences are covered in units 8 and 9. Important features of oscillations and wave motion are covered in units 10 and 11.


Scope and Excitement of Physics

Discoveries in physics are of two types; accidental discoveries and well-analysed research outcome in the laboratory based on intuitive thinking and prediction. For example, magnetism was accidentally observed but the reason for this strange behavior of magnets was later analysed theoretically. This analysis revealed the underlying phenomena of magnetism. With this knowledge, artificial magnets were prepared in the laboratories. Theoretical predictions are the most important contribution of physics to the developments in technology and medicine. For example, the famous equation of Albert Einstein, E=mc2 was a theoretical prediction in 1905 and experimentally proved in 1932 by Cockcroft and Walton. Theoretical predictions aided with recent simulation and computation procedures are widely used to identify the most suited materials for robust applications. The pharmaceutical industry uses this technique very effectively to design new drugs. Bio compatible materials for organ replacement are predicted using quantum prescriptions of physics before fabrication. Thus, experiments and theory work hand in hand complimenting one another.

Physics has a huge scope as it covers a tremendous range of magnitude of various physical quantities (length, mass, time, energy etc). It deals with systems of very large magnitude as in astronomical phenomena as well as those with very small magnitude involving electrons and protons.

·           Range of time scales: astronomical scales to microscopic scales, 1018s to 10−22s.

·           Range of masses: from heavenly bodies to electron, 1055 kg (mass of known observable universe) to 10−31 kg (mass of an electron) [the actual mass of an electron is 9.11×10-31 Kg].

The study of physics is not only educative but also exciting in many ways.


·           A small number of basic concepts and laws can explain diverse physical phenomena.

·           The most interesting part is the designing of useful devices based on the physical laws.

For example i) use of robotics journey to Moon and to nearby planets with controls from the ground iii) technological advances in health sciences etc. 

·           Carrying out new challenging experiments to unfold the secrets of nature and in verifying or falsifying the existing theories.

·           Probing and understanding the science behind natural phenomena like the eclipse, and why one feels the heat when there is a fire? (or) What causes the wind, etc.


In  today’s  world  of  technological advancement, the building block of all engineering and technical education is physics which is explained with the help of mathematical tools.


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