20 votes
Accepted

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

All theories of matter, starting with the ancient Greek philosophers, can be classified as either continuous or discrete (i.e., particulate). This dichotomy is due to Aristotle. Aristotle held that ...
19 votes

Why do many names of technical and scientific subjects end with "ics"?

It is not random. These names are of Greek origin, and -ic or -ics are Anglicizations of the Greek suffix -ikos, which meant "pertaining to". In other languages it can be rendered as -ika or -ica, ...
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11 votes
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Who invented the steam engine: Newcomen or Watt?

Both Newcomen and Watt invented 'steam' engines. Both operated by injecting steam into a cylinder, moving a piston in the cylinder. Newcomen's engine is often described as a steam engine but the ...
  • 2,048
10 votes
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What was wrong with the caloric theory?

This question is intimately connected with the first law of thermodynamics, aka conservation of energy. Kuhn did a detailed study of the question in his paper "Energy Conservation as an Example of ...
9 votes

What is the history of the energy concept and its measurement?

The word originated with Aristotle, whose "energeia" and "entelecheia" can roughly be translated as enaction, that which makes matter move, and embodiment, that which makes matter take form, ...
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9 votes
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Historical Survey of Statistical Mechanics

Stefano Bordoni's 2012 Taming Complexity (e-book from ResearchGate; review) is a good place to start.(Bordoni has a master's degree in physics and three PhDs, in the history of science, anthropology ...
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7 votes
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Early history of the phase concept in the physical sciences

Presumably the recognition that water, ice and vapor are different states of the same substance goes back to prehistoric times: e.g. boiling water over a fire or observing the melting of ice. The ...
  • 1,527
7 votes
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How far did Nazi Germany get in researching the "sun gun?"

It never got off the drawing board (literally). I have a few sources that suggest that the scientists never got beyond some basic technical drawings and schematics related to the Sun Gun. Admittedly, ...
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7 votes

What is the history of the energy concept and its measurement?

There is a chapter "the history of the energy concept" of some 80 pages in Philip Mirowski's book More heat than light which is rather informative. The main point of the story appears to be that ...
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7 votes

When did people notice the special shapes of snowflakes, and when did they start to study them?

There is a very nice site SnowCrystals.com run by Kenneth Libbrecht, a professor of physics at Caltech, which covers both physics and history, and hosts many captivating images, videos and more. ...
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7 votes

When did the concept of temperature first arise?

Your link quickly leads to Middleton, History of the Thermometer and its Use in Meteorology (1966). Pre-1600 (p. 3): The opposition of “hot” and “cold,” like that of “dry” and “moist,” [was] ...
7 votes

What is the history behind defining temperature as measure of hotness?

In a way everyone knew that it was heat that is flowing and coldness is absence of heat. But how did they know it? The answer, quite simply, is that they didn't know it. Coldness was frequently ...
6 votes

Who determined the temperature of the Sun first?

As is often the case, nobody was first, but both early and modern estimates of the surface temperature are based on comparisons to the black body radiation, the modern value is about 5800 K. The solar ...
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6 votes

When did the concept of temperature first arise?

As Francois Ziegler pointed out, Galen introduced the idea of four degrees of heat and four degrees of cold on either side of a standard neutral temperature around 150 A.D. By the 1300s, the Oxford ...
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6 votes
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What is the etymology of "phase space" of a dynamical system?

Here is a direct link to Nolte's Tangled Tale of Phase Space on Physics Today. Big takeaways: the name did not come from Liouville's oft-cited 1838 paper, and Boltzmann used "phase" without &...
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6 votes
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Did Einstein oppose evolution?

First of all, I did not study in any detail what Einstein's views on evolution were; the following is just a trivial observation: Our sun is constantly pumping energy into the ecosystem of the Earth. ...
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5 votes
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What became of the Boltzmann-Zermelo debate about the second law of thermodynamics?

Bolzman was closer to the truth. On the modern state of this question, I recommend the classics: Ehrenfest, Paul; Ehrenfest, Tatiana The conceptual foundations of the statistical approach in ...
5 votes
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On the work of Sadi Carnot

Alright after doing some research I figured out the answers to all my questions. 1)Carnot's definition of energy is as follows: it's the energy needed to lift a cubic meter of water one meters high. ...
5 votes

When was double-paned glass first invented and used for insulation?

lmgtfy google cache of mimivanderhave.com 1945 The first double-pane, insulated window was introduced That's without attribution; door and window claims From single to double pane windows… ...
5 votes

Lord Kelvin's wonderful prediction

Long ago I had to make a project about this topic. I disagree with other answers: Lord Kelvin, with the help of Joule, did actually find the absolute scale, because there's much more you are missing. ...
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5 votes
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Did Ludwig Boltzmann read Albert Einstein's publication published on Brownian motion one year before Boltzmann passed away?

I’m afraid he no longer cared. According to Boltzmann biographer E. Broda (1981): (p. 9): One might have thought Boltzmann would, after 1900, in lectures and writings refer to Planck’s work on ...
5 votes
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Was Lord Kelvin at any point a proponent of vitalism?

Kelvin did not merely believe that vitalism warranted serious scientific consideration, he thought it to be "absolutely forced by science". In less strong terms, it was a popular idea at the ...
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5 votes

What is the history behind defining temperature as measure of hotness?

It makes no difference for either measuring temperature, or calculating heat flow, what flows there, if anything. So experimental basis for measuring temperature was established long before the nature ...
  • 68.9k
5 votes
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Why is thermodynamics called thermodynamics?

Thermodynamics is indeed derived from the Greek words Therme (heat) and Dynamis (power). However, Dynamis is not the same as the Physics definition of Power but is synonymous with "might" or ...
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4 votes

Historical Survey of Statistical Mechanics

The following two books are also very good resources about this topic ; the first one has a more historical approach. Carlo Cercignani, Ludwig Boltzmann. The man who trusted atoms. Oxford University ...
4 votes

What was wrong with the caloric theory?

Hint... See Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962 - 3rd ed), page 98 : a theory like energy conservation [...] emerged from a crisis in which an essential ingredient was the ...
4 votes

When were the modern notions of work and energy created

Mainly in the work of Hermann von Helmholtz in 1847. But of course (as always) there was a long development before and after. http://books.google.com/books?id=C1i4AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA114#v=onepage&q&...
4 votes

Carnot and Entropy

Carnot was not talking about thermodynamics in the same way that Clausius was. Carnot saw the fundamental action as a fluid substance (caloric) being manipulated into motion between a hot place and a ...
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4 votes
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Who discovered the Virial Theorem?

According to the OED, Clausius coined the German word "virial" (from vīs force, strength): a. In Clausius' kinetic theorem of gases: (see quots.). virial theorem, the theorem that for a steady-...
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