Mike Ko Personal Portfolio


Home-School Education
Hong Kong

University of Durham
Bachelor of Science
United Kingdom

2017 - 2018
United Kingdom

Writing - Commentary

50 Physics Ideas You Really Need to Know




                        Ever since physics took off during the nineteenth-century, physicists have revealed a lot about the mechanisms of our universe. Over the centuries, our understanding of the basic properties of our physical world has greatly increased, like on mechanics, gravity, electromagnetism, energy, and matter. However, modern developments led to the discovery of many non-tangible properties as well, like relativity and quantum mechanics. Some of these new ideas even challenged some of our basic presumptions. All of these ideas taken together might seem too much to handle, but all of our activities in this world are governed by such laws and ideas dictated by physics.

                        The book 50 physics ideas you really need to know (by Joanne Baker), explains 50 essential ideas or concepts, providing an introduction to the world of physics. The first two dozen ideas are about simple or familiar physical concepts like motion, electricity, and light. Further on, however, the focus shifts to more complicated or abstract ideas, including quantum theory, subatomic particles, relativity, and the composition of the universe.

An Introduction to the Physical World

                        As an introduction to physics, this book does an excellent job. It explains the basic concepts behind each idea, its history, and its impact on our interpretation of our physical world. The book clearly shows how physics can allow us to deduce the rules of the universe. However, for readers with some prior knowledge of physics, the four-page treatment for each topic may seem inadequate to describe certain ideas. To me, the short coverage was not enough to clearly explain the more abstract ideas, including relativity and aspects of quantum physics. As such, I was only able to get a general picture of these ideas from the book.

                        Despite of this, reading the book was worthwhile, as it provides some background of the development of the ideas in addition to explaining them. It also introduces ideas, like those from particle physics, which you normally would never know unless study physics in depth.

All Ideas are Equal

                        I do not believe that any one of the 50 ideas included in the book is superior to the other. While the later or more complex developments might be more useful, such advances usually stems from our earlier understanding of the basic foundations. It is like asking whether the egg or the chicken is more important. However, there are a few physics ideas in the book that I find particular interesting. One of them is relativity.

                        Generally, time is assumed to be fixed. However, special relativity states that the time a moving object experiences is slower relative to a stationary object. The same also applies to the length of the moving object, where moving objects experiences length contraction. It is not that the object contracts however; it is the space that it is in that shrinks. In general relativity, it is further shown that objects subjected to gravity can also experience time dilation and length contraction. Where we once thought that space and time are fixed, physics has shown that this is actually not the case.

                        Having our basic view of basic concepts overturned is already quite significant, but what I think is most amazing about relativity is that it was the result of pure logic. Albert Einstein, the man who proposed relativity, came up with these important properties of time and space simply by thinking about them.

                        Another interesting idea is Schrödinger’s wave equation. The equation states that the position of electrons in atoms can only be known in probabilistic terms. You cannot be certain about the exact location of a particle. This is somewhat ironic, because physics usually gives the impression that it is quite deterministic.

                        In general, it can be seen that the work done in physics has moved from more tangible areas to more abstract areas, like the search for fundamental particles and the nature of the universe. Some may see this as the end of the prime time of physics. Yet in my view, it is still important for us to further our understanding of the universe, because we are living inside it. To see how our physical world works, we must understand its characteristics and rules. Such knowledge will allow us to better appreciate our universe. As many have said, one must first know the rules of a game before you can enjoy it.

                                                                                                                                                                  Mike Ko
                                                                                                                                                                  ( 723 words )


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