History Of Physics


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History Of Physics Essay, Research Paper

Physics began when man first started to study his surroundings. Early

applications of physics include the invention of the wheel and of primitive

weapons. The people who built Stone Henge had knowledge of physical mechanics in

order to move the rocks and place them on top of each other. It was not until

during the period of Greek culture that the first systematic treatment of

physics started with the use of mechanics. Thales is often said to have been the

first scientist, and the first Greek philosopher. He was an astronomer, merchant

and mathematician, and after visiting Egypt he is said to have originated the

science of deductive geometry. He also discovered theorems of elementary

geometry and is said to have correctly predicted an eclipse of the sun. Many of

his studies were in astronomy but he also observed static electricity.

Phythogoras was a Greek philosopher. He discovered simple numerical ratios

relating the musical tones of major consonances, to the length of the strings

used in sounding them. The Pythagorean theorem was named after him, although

this fundamental statements of deductive geometry was most likely first an idea

from Egyptian methods of measurements. With the help of his followers he

discovered that the earth was a sphere, but he did not believe it revolved

around the sun. Democritus was the leader of a group called Atomists. Although

they were unable to prove that matter was made up of small particles, they were

the first to come up with the idea. Democritus believed that atoms differed in

size, shape, and movement but were all made of the same substances. Aristotle

was the most important scientific philosopher in Greece. He believed that all

matter on earth consisted of four pure substances or elements, which were earth,

air, fire, and water. He also believed that the earth was the centre of the

universe, and that anything beyond the earth consisted of a fifth pure substance

called quintessence. Archimedes was an inventor and mathematician, who

discovered several basic scientific principles and developed a number of

measuring techniques. Ptolemy was an Egyptian astronomer. He developed a model

for predicting the positions of the sun, moon, stars, and planets. Like

Aristotle, he believed that the earth was the center of the universe. Between

400 AD. and 1000 AD. Most educated people in Western Europe looked to religion

rather than scientific investigation to answer their questions about the laws of

nature. At the same time Arabic scholars were correcting Ptolemy system of

astronomy and performing experiments in optics and mechanics. As trade increased

between Arab countries and western countries, their work and Greek scientific

documents became available to western culture. During the 1200’s St. Thomas

Aquinas reconciled Aristotle’s beliefs with church principles. During this time

Roger Bacon an English scholar conducted studies in optics. During the

Renaissance there were many social, economic and political changes that produced

new approaches to science. The famous Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci

conducted studies in motion and hydraulics. The polish astronomer Nicolaus

Copernicus proposed a system in which the sun was placed at the centre of the

universe and the earth was one of the planets orbiting the sun. In the 1600’s

Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer constructed a new and accurate model of the

solar system. Rene Descartes, a French philosopher and mathematician developed

the concept of inertia ( that objects maintain their state of motion unless

disturbed ). At this time people began to realise that the physical world was

governed by natural laws and that it was possible to discover those laws through

careful measurement under controlled conditions. Galileo, an Italian physicist

developed a number of telescopes to study the heavens, and performed laboratory

experiments on the motion of falling bodies. In the 1600’s there was a great

deal of scientific activity. Sir Isaac Newton, an English scientist, published

his Mathematical Principle of Natural Philosophy. He developed three laws of

motion and a law of universal gravitation based on the work of Galileo and

Descartes. He also invented a new form of mathematics called Calculus. During

the Industrial Revolution scientific instruments were produced which were more

accurate and enabled scientists to perform more complicated experiments. People

began specializing in specific areas such as: Heat and Energy, Light, and

Electricity and Magnetism. Scientists began to learn that heat was able to do

work. James Joule, and English physicist, devised a way to calculate how much

work a give quantity of heat could do. Later a number of Physicists proposed the

Law of Conservation of Energy (energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only

transformed from one form to another). In the early 1800’s the theory was

developed that light existed in the form of waves. Physicists believed that all

space was filled with ether and that light energy was the vibration of the

ether. There were other development in the study of electricity and magnetism,

for example Count Alessandro Volta of Italy invented the electric battery; Andre

Marie Ampere and Hans Christian showed that electricity and magnetism were

related, and Michael Faraday and Joseph Henry showed how mechanical energy could

be converted into electrical energy. At the end of the 1800’s many physicists

believed that all the laws concerning the universe had been discovered. The

first Physicists in Canada taught at universities and did very little research.

When Ernest Rutherford studied radioactivity at McGill University, he inspired

other Physicists to do more research. In 1930 James Hillier helped to build the

first electron microscope while he was a student at the University of Toronto.

With financial help from the National Research Council scientists have developed

the CANDU nuclear power reactor. Gerhard Herzberg received a Nobel Prize for his

studies of the ways atoms and molecules give off and absorb light. The Alouette

satellites, which were launched in the 1960?s, have helped Physicists to study

matter high above the earth’s surface. At the turn of the twentieth century the

understanding of the physical universe changed completely when Antoine Henri

Becquerel and Wilhelm Roentgen discovered radioactivity and x-rays. A general,

theoretical picture for the generation of x-rays emerged after Niels Bohr

developed the first atomic theory. At this time Physicists realized that they

had to reexamine the philosophical foundations of their work. In doing so, the

public saw them as intellectuals who probed the dark mysteries of the universe.

Physical knowledge was reorganized and the theories of quantum mechanics were

formulated. Up until this time most Physicists worked at universities mainly in

German-speaking Europe. Then research moved to new countries where it was

supported by industry, National Research Council, or private foundations. Max

Planck, a German physicist, published his Quantum Theory of Energy Transfer.

Later, Erwin Schrodinger and Werner Heisenberg initiated the development of the

field of quantum mechanics. Albert Einstein showed how mass and energy are

related in his famous equation E = mc2. Research in physics has led to important

advances in technology, for example: in 1947 American physicists invented the

"Transistor" which revolutionized the electronics industry, and in the

early 1960’s physicists produced lasers which are light amplifying devices and

are valuable tools in areas such as communications, industry, and medicine.

Governments have become interested in promoting scientific investigation. The

United States and the Soviet Union have carried out extensive research on

thermonuclear weapons and started a space program. Physics has evolved greatly

from when primitive man devised ways to move heavy objects to the complex

scientific research that is being done today. Physics has also moved from being

a branch of Philosophy in Aristotle’s day to being a very exact science today.

Physicists are still seeking knowledge concerning the laws of nature and the

universe and are involved in many diverse areas of research, such as,

biophysics, astrophysics, solid-state physics, and genetic engineering.

Physicists no longer believe, as they once did, that everything is now known

concerning the universe and are constantly searching for new truths.

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