Commonly Asked Questions in Physics

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Features

  • Addresses questions in all major areas of modern and classical physics
  • Requires no prior background in physics or mathematics
  • Discusses measurement units and experimental work
  • Provides more mathematical details in several chapters as well as additional readings in every chapter for readers who would like to delve further into the topic

Summary

In the 300 years since Newton’s seminal work, physics has explained many things that used to be mysterious. Particularly in the last century, physics has addressed a range of questions, from the smallest fundamental particles to the large-scale structure and history of the entire universe. But there are always more questions.

Suitable for a wide audience, Commonly Asked Questions in Physics covers a broad scope of subjects, from classical physics that goes back to the age of Newton to new ideas just formulated in the twenty-first century. The book highlights the core areas of physics that predate the twentieth century, including mechanics, electromagnetism, optics, and thermodynamics. It also focuses on modern physics, covering quantum mechanics, atomic and nuclear physics, fundamental particles, and relativity.

Each chapter explains the numbers and units used to measure things and some chapters include a "Going Deeper" feature that provides more mathematical details for readers who are up to the challenge. The suggested readings at the end of each chapter range from classic textbooks to some of the best books written for the general public, offering readers the option to study the topic in more depth.

Physics affects our lives nearly every day—using cell phones, taking x-rays, and much more. Keeping the mathematics at a very basic level, this accessible book addresses many physics questions frequently posed by physics students, scientists in other fields, and the wider public.

Table of Contents

Classical Mechanics
What Is Physics?
What Is the SI System of Units?
What Are Velocity and Acceleration?
What Is a Force?
What Are Work and Energy?
What Is Momentum Conservation?
What Is Simple Harmonic Motion?
What Are Torque and Angular Momentum?
What Is Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation?
Can Classical Mechanics Explain Everything?

Electromagnetism and Electronics
What Are Electric Charges, and How Do They Affect Each Other?
What Is an Electric Field?
What Is Electric Potential?
What Is a Capacitor?
What Are Electric Current and Resistance?
What Are Semiconductors?
What Are Superconductors?
What Are Magnetic Dipoles and Magnetic Fields?
What Is Electromagnetism?
What Are Direct Current and Alternating Current?
How Do Electric Motors Work?
What Is an Electromagnetic Wave?

Solids and Fluids
What Are the States of Matter?
What Is a Fluid?
What Are Transverse and Longitudinal Waves?
How Is Sound Generated?
How Are Music and Musical Harmonies Made?
What Is the Doppler Effect?
What Makes a Sonic Boom?

Quantum Mechanics
What Is Quantization?
What Is WaveParticle Duality?
What Is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle?
What Does Quantum Mechanics Tell Us about Hydrogen Atoms?
What Is Quantum Tunneling?
What Is a Quantum Computer?
What Are Some Other Applications of Quantum Mechanics?

Light and Optics
What Is Light?
What Is the Law of Reflection?
What Is Refraction?
How Do Lenses Work?
What Are Some Common Refractive Vision Disorders, and How Are They Corrected with Lenses?
How Do Microscopes Work?
How Do Telescopes Work?
How Does Interference Reveal Light’s Wave Properties?
What Is Diffraction?
What Is Polarization, and Why Is It Useful?
Why Is the Sky Blue?
How Do Lasers Work, and What Makes Them Different from Other Light Sources?
What Is a Light-Emitting Diode?
What Is a Solar (Photovoltaic) Cell?

Thermodynamics
What Is Temperature?
What Is the Kinetic Theory of Gases?
What Is Thermal Expansion?
What Are the Units for Thermal Energy, Heat, and Food Energy?
What Are Heat Capacity and Specific Heat?
What Are Phase Changes?
What Is the First Law of Thermodynamics?
What Is the Second Law of Thermodynamics?
What Is a Heat Engine?
What Are Quantum Statistics?
How Cold Can You Get?

Atoms and Nuclei
Atoms and ElementsWhat Are They?
What Is the RutherfordBohr Model of the Atom?
What Are Atomic Orbitals and Shells?
How Are X-Rays Produced?
What Are the Basic Properties of Nuclei?
What Is the Strong (Nuclear) Force?
How Are Nuclei Bound by the Nuclear Force?
What Is Nuclear Binding Energy?
What Are the Benefits and Dangers of Radioactive Nuclei?
What Is Fission?
What Is Fusion?

Fundamental Particles and Forces
What Are Fundamental and Composite Particles?
What Are the Historical Roots of the Search for Fundamental Particles?
What Is Antimatter?
What Is the Particle Zoo?
How Do Particles Mediate Forces?
What Are Quarks?
What Are Leptons?
What Is the Weak Force?
What Is a Feynman Diagram?
What Conservation Laws Are Associated with Hadrons and Leptons?
What Is the Higgs Boson?
What Is Unification?

Relativity
What’s the Difference between Special Relativity and General Relativity?
How Was Special Relativity Developed?
What Are the Two Principles (or Postulates) of Special Relativity?
How Are Time and Distance Measurements Affected in Relativity?
What Is Spacetime?
How Are Velocity Measurements Affected by High Speeds?
What Is the Doppler Effect?
What Is Relativistic Energy?
How Is Relativity Connected to Electromagnetism?
What Is the Principle of Equivalence?
How Does General Relativity Describe Gravity?
What Are Some Consequences of General Relativity?
What Is a Black Hole?
What Are Gravitational Waves?
How Do We Use Relativity?
So Is Everything Really Relative?

Astrophysics and Cosmology
What Are Astronomy, Astrophysics, and Cosmology?
How Was Our Solar System Formed?
What Are the Orbits of the Planets?
What Other Objects Are in the Solar System?
What Are Stars?
What Is a Supernova?
What Are Galaxies?
How Has the Universe Evolved in Time?
What Are Dark Matter and Dark Energy?
Where Do We Go from Here?

Index

Further Readings appear at the end of each chapter.

Editorial Reviews

"This is a unique book, somewhere between a very basic introductory text, a quick refresher, and a sequence of answers to interesting physics questions … a quick yet coherent introduction to the basic ideas of physics."
—Richard Wolfson, Benjamin F. Wissler Professor of Physics, Middlebury College