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Questions tagged [physics]

For questions about the scientific discipline that concerns itself with analysing the laws of nature in full generality

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45 votes
3 answers
5k views

When exactly (and why) did matrices become a part of the undergraduate curriculum?

Let me tell what I know about this. It is well-known that Heisenberg invented matrix multiplication himself, in his great paper that is considered part of the foundation of quantum mechanics. This was ...
Alexandre Eremenko's user avatar
44 votes
5 answers
8k views

Writing Mathematical Symbols in 20th century

As I was reading some papers written by Schrödinger and Heisenberg back in 1920s, I noticed that the symbols they use such as the integral or summation sign or calligraphic letters are as if printed ...
Gonenc's user avatar
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40 votes
6 answers
7k views

Whose shoulders did Newton stand on?

In a letter to Robert Hooke in 1676, Newton wrote: If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. Do we know which giants Newton was referring to? And was he referring to a ...
TooTone's user avatar
  • 679
29 votes
4 answers
8k views

Did physicists around 1900 really believe they were close to "figuring it all out"?

I've encountered the claim that around the end of the 19th century, physicists believed that their understanding of the physical world was close to being complete. One example of this claim can be ...
Ofri Raviv's user avatar
29 votes
3 answers
8k views

Why did no one else, except Einstein, work on developing General Relativity between 1905-1915?

Einstein dedicated his time between 1905-1915 to develop general relativity (GR). It seems strange to me that no other physicists attempted to tackle this problem in this ten-year period. After all, ...
Omar Nagib's user avatar
29 votes
1 answer
2k views

What were the dominant non-atomic theories of matter in the 19th century?

From what I have read, the atomic theory of matter was cemented by a 1905 paper by Einstein in which he explained the erratic motion of a bit of pollen suspended in water using the assumption that ...
Paul Siegel's user avatar
  • 1,031
29 votes
3 answers
1k views

When did physics texts start to teach Kepler's $3/2$'s power law as a result of Newton's $1/r^2$ law of gravitation, rather than the other way around?

In modern physics textbooks, we teach Newton's laws of motion, then Newton's law of Universal Gravitation, and then Kepler's laws of planetary motion. Specifically, from the $1/r^2$ form of the ...
Colin McFaul's user avatar
27 votes
2 answers
2k views

What attracted Einstein to the anomalous precession of Mercury?

The story is usually told starting with Einstein's 1915 paper Explanation of the Perihelion Motion of Mercury from General Relativity Theory, or at least its drafts from 1913-14. It was the first ...
Conifold's user avatar
  • 77k
26 votes
2 answers
2k views

How did scientists plot complicated graphs in the 19th century?

I am wondering how did Maxwell in the 19th century draw such figures as the one shown? What tools or procedures did he need? Is it all compass and ruler drawing?
hat's user avatar
  • 363
25 votes
14 answers
6k views

What are examples of serendipity in the history of the sciences and math?

Cosmic microwave background radiation was discovered after Penzias & Wilson couldn't get rid of the noise generated by their horn. In fact, the noise was their discovery. The strings in string ...
Deschele Schilder's user avatar
25 votes
3 answers
5k views

Is Millikan's famous oil drop experiment a fraud?

I read in my mechanics textbook written by Goodstein that Robert Millikan cherry-picked his data in his famous oil drop experiment, and now I'm left wondering about the scientific value of his results....
Shing's user avatar
  • 664
25 votes
2 answers
3k views

Who discovered the covering homomorphism between SU(2) and SO(3)?

Who discovered this? It is quite nontrivial and very important in quantum mechanics.
John's user avatar
  • 909
25 votes
3 answers
37k views

Why is kg the standard unit for mass and not g in SI?

Why is $\mathrm{kg}$ the standard unit for mass and not $\mathrm{g}$? I know that there is the kilogramme des Archives which is a kilogram and not a gram. But originally on April 7, 1795 the gram was ...
wythagoras's user avatar
  • 3,112
25 votes
2 answers
4k views

What was the vis viva controversy, including its philosophical aspects?

Leibniz's concept of vis visa (literally translated as living force) was a precursor to our modern concept of kinetic energy. His formula for it was close to the modern non-relativistic one: $mv^2$, ...
Michael Weiss's user avatar
25 votes
2 answers
66k views

Why did Tesla disagree with Einstein?

Both Tesla and Einstein were brilliant scientists. Tesla said the following on the theory of relativity in a 1935 New York Times interview: "The theory, wraps all these errors and fallacies and ...
user avatar
24 votes
1 answer
4k views

How was Einstein led to make a contact with Differential Geometry for his theory of General Relativity?

General Relativity was developed with Differential Geometry as the tool. How was Einstein led to make a contact with Differential Geometry for his theory of General Relativity? Who suggested him to ...
Display Name's user avatar
24 votes
3 answers
386 views

How soon after or before the development of nuclear applications was waste disposal considered?

Nuclear applications—be it in the form of electricity production, weapon creation, etc.—inevitably involves radioactive waste. When was it realized that there might be a need for a specialized waste ...
BMS's user avatar
  • 1,127
23 votes
7 answers
11k views

In ancient times, how did people conclude that the shape of Earth is a sphere?

This is more of a philosophical question, but I want a mathematical explanation. During ancient times, it was well accepted that the surface of Earth was spherical. People first observed this when ...
Anubhav Mukherjee's user avatar
23 votes
2 answers
5k views

Why is there no named unit for momentum but there is one for energy?

Momentum and energy play very similar roles in mechanics, each being changed by the application of force over a interval. For energy the interval is in space and for momentum it is in time. Both have ...
dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten's user avatar
23 votes
4 answers
1k views

Did ancient/medieval non-European cultures have a concept of energy? If so, what are the similarities and differences to the modern concept?

For example, do we find something related to the modern energy concept in Ancient China, Ancient India, or the Islamic Golden Age? Among "similarities and differences", conservation is obviously ...
Michael Weiss's user avatar
21 votes
3 answers
2k views

How did Kepler "guess" his third law from data?

It is amazing that Kepler determined his three laws by looking at data, without a calculator and using only pen and paper. It is conceivable how he proved his laws described the data after he had ...
user avatar
21 votes
1 answer
4k views

What cipher(s) did Isaac Newton use?

A number of sources including this one assert that Isaac Newton used encrypted messages to communicate some of his scientific discoveries, and as a way of establishing priority. What cipher(s) did he ...
A E's user avatar
  • 315
19 votes
5 answers
2k views

What led to the rise of Göttingen?

this is a counter part to my other question: What led to the fall of Göttingen?. Göttingen was a major university in which many famous physicists and mathematicians lived. It was located in ...
tox123's user avatar
  • 1,094
19 votes
2 answers
8k views

What was different about Planck's quantization of light compared to Einstein's?

In describing black body radiation Planck assumed that the energy that can be absorbed or emitted by charges is quantized, i.e., they can only absorb or emit certain quantities of energy. But it was ...
Quantum spaghettification's user avatar
19 votes
2 answers
551 views

What data did Kepler work out his laws from?

It's well known that Kepler worked out his laws by fitting curves to Tycho Brahe's data on the trajectories of planets through the sky. What was this data? How does one record the trajectory of a ...
Jack M's user avatar
  • 3,129
19 votes
4 answers
1k views

Conflict between physics and philosophy

In the old days. stars of physicists like Einstein$^{[1]}$, Poincare, Heisenberg, Pauli, $^{[2]}$ Bohr and so on are quite philosophical mind, and like philosophy. $^{[3]}$ But now, it seems to me a ...
Shing's user avatar
  • 664
19 votes
1 answer
4k views

What did Schroedinger try to say with the cat thought experiment?

In many books one finds different explanations. Specifically popular seems to be that he "argued against the Copenhagen interpretation". But what did he really intend to communicate? I for ...
manuel459's user avatar
  • 301
18 votes
3 answers
9k views

Is this Einstein rejection letter fake?

So I found this on the internet the other day- Is this fake? Are there any ways to prove that it's fake? Does there, if any, exist any real copy of such a rejection letter?(Was Einstein ever ...
Soham's user avatar
  • 911
18 votes
5 answers
2k views

Why don't we learn Buridan's laws of motion?

My question is why has Jean Buridan faded into obscurity while Newton is venerated as a God by scientists? Here is a description of Buridan's impetus theory: The concept of inertia was alien to the ...
Neil Meyer's user avatar
18 votes
4 answers
3k views

Why isn't Feynman's path integral taught more widely and earlier in today's academic physics curricula?

Anyone who has studied Feynman's path integral will know that it makes quantum mechanics more like classical mechanics. A student who has learned about the Lagrangian will easily understand the ...
Ooker's user avatar
  • 1,198
17 votes
7 answers
8k views

Has there been an equivalent in physics to Ramanujan in maths?

Ramanujan's story is a well known story of the Indian young man who turned out to be a mathematical genius without a scholarly education. He was "discovered" by the mathematician Hardy at ...
Deschele Schilder's user avatar
17 votes
3 answers
2k views

Did light bulb companies commission Planck to study black body radiation?

Background When introducing Planck's switch to looking at black-body radiation, a number of sources -- like MinutePhysics, the Economist, random online encyclopaedias and even here on HSM.SE (plus ...
Artem Kaznatcheev's user avatar
17 votes
3 answers
7k views

Who was the first to postulate that space was a vacuum?

The fact that space is a vacuum and that the Earth's atmosphere only extends a short way above the surface is accepted as obvious. However, there is nothing a priori obvious about it: you first have ...
Emilio Pisanty's user avatar
17 votes
1 answer
1k views

How did the publication feat of Einstein's four 1905 Annus Mirabilis papers get through peer review?

Einstein's early career is well-known for the lack of success he had applying for assistant lecturer positions with universities; he could not get a position, and he ended up working in a Bern patent ...
DBS's user avatar
  • 273
17 votes
1 answer
311 views

Did the Digges Telescope actually exist?

There are many claimants for the first telescope. Amongst these are the claims placed at the doors of Bacon and Digges. The Bacon claim is very sketchy, boiling down to one sentence and is easy to ...
winwaed's user avatar
  • 2,070
17 votes
2 answers
2k views

What became of the Boltzmann-Zermelo debate about the second law of thermodynamics?

At the end of 19th century there was a lively discussion about the nature of the second law of thermodynamics, and its relation to Hamiltonian dynamics. Boltzmann developed a position that the second ...
Conifold's user avatar
  • 77k
16 votes
1 answer
963 views

Hidden agenda of the Galileo trial?

Redondi argued that Galileo's trial on heliocentrism was merely a show trial concealing the real objection against Galileo among the catholic establishment, which was his atomism thought to be at ...
Mikhail Katz's user avatar
  • 5,822
15 votes
1 answer
1k views

Why did 18th century writers think that Mars had 2 satellites?

At least two 18th century writers wrote that Mars has two satellites: Swift in Gulliver's travels (1726) and Voltaire in Micromégas (1752). How did they guess this? Was Voltaire repeating Swift's ...
Alexandre Eremenko's user avatar
15 votes
2 answers
2k views

Was Dirac really trying to take the square root of the Klein-Gordon operator?

As a student of physics one will, on several occasions, indubitably hear professors or other physicists (here is an example, from Physics.SE's highest-rep user John Rennie) tell the famous story that ...
Danu's user avatar
  • 3,852
15 votes
2 answers
673 views

Historical Survey of Statistical Mechanics

Statistical mechanics is a subject with a particularly rich history. I think of the early debates of Boltzmann and Loschmidt, the rather confusing differences between the approaches of Gibbs and ...
tom's user avatar
  • 251
15 votes
3 answers
1k views

How did Galileo know that objects rolling down a ramp was an accurate model for free fall?

Galileo used balls rolling down ramps to study the relationship between time and distance traveled. However, without any knowledge of physics, it doesn't seem immediately obvious that the time-...
Ovi's user avatar
  • 293
15 votes
1 answer
2k views

When was the vector notation in physics and other sciences first introduced?

The vector notation in physics is a very compact and easy way to write things down, and according to Feynman it also saves print. When exactly did scientists realize that they were summarizing things ...
Gonenc's user avatar
  • 785
14 votes
6 answers
706 views

Has science fiction ever caused scientists to do real research?

Has science fiction ever caused scientists to do real research? Science fiction here means fiction that tries to explain things in the world rather than speculate about the future or unexplorable ...
rus9384's user avatar
  • 303
14 votes
3 answers
5k views

Historical example of research papers being misinterpreted due to poor wording and creating controversy?

Is there any example of major controversy in the scientific community caused due to poor wording and/or misinterpretation of words?
Akif Ismail's user avatar
14 votes
2 answers
1k views

What is the story behind various uses of the word "spectrum"?

Here are five distinct uses of the word spectrum in physics and mathematics: Spectrum (optics): The range of colors in the rainbow Spectrum (particle physics): The range of electromagnetic ...
Paul Siegel's user avatar
  • 1,031
14 votes
1 answer
4k views

Did most or just few physicists think in 1900 that there was nothing important left to discover?

For example, the whole microscopic world was unknown - isn't that a fundamental problem even bigger than the "two clouds" to solve? They could regard atoms, electrons and other discovered ...
jw_'s user avatar
  • 275
14 votes
2 answers
1k views

How did quantum mechanics operators come into being?

Now I am starting to learn Quantum Mechanics. In the class I am taught about operators, postulates and all other basic stuff. I understand operators to be +, -, /, etc; but quantum mechanical ...
Sensebe's user avatar
  • 675
14 votes
3 answers
2k views

How did we come up with the name "atomic bomb"?

At first, my initiate question was: What is the difference between an atomic and a nuclear bomb?: Nuclear bombs are of two types — those that depend on fission, like atomic bombs, and those that ...
Ooker's user avatar
  • 1,198
14 votes
4 answers
3k views

What was Einstein's motivation for relativity theory?

I'm a high school student who never studied any relativity before, but I'm just wondering what was the question that Einstein asked himself before going into this field. I knew he has done lots of ...
user avatar
13 votes
12 answers
10k views

Which physicists died very young or in a tragic way?

Inspired by Which mathematicians died very young or in a tragic way? , I wonder which physicists had similar fates. A quick search lead me to Heinrich Hertz who died from a malignant bone condition at ...
Mauricio's user avatar
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