Dr. Phil's Home
The international Physics community has decided to take this opportunity to celebrate the centennial of a rather significant leap in Man's understanding of the world. In 1905, a young Albert Einstein wrote a series of scientific papers which "changed everything." If any young physicist had written any one of these papers, it would have been a remarkable acheivement. For one person to write all of them is a singular event. By highlighting this important year of creativity, Physics hopes to bring attention to the world what it is that Physics does and what we understand of the world around us and the universe in general.
Much of what we teach in the introductory Physics courses is considered Classical Physics. The principles of Mechanics -- the study of motion -- are firmly rooted in the Physics of the 17th and 18th centuries. Electricty & Magnetism, as well as the study of Thermodynamics -- heat and engines -- were well understood by the 19th century. But there were flaws, problems which could not be solved or addressed by Classical Physics, even as late 19th century physicists suggested that an "End of Physics" was near -- that we had learned everything there was to know. Quite a claim, considering the atom was not understood, nuclear physics was barely begun and we really had no good idea how large the universe really was. The X-ray was discovered in 1895 and the electron in 1897. By 1900, Max Planck had proposed a quantum theory which suggested that some physics quantities had to come in discrete bundles, rather than taking on any possible value. How all this fit into the world was not, however, yet understood. Rather than an "End of Physics", an entire new world of the very large, the very small and the very fast was unfolding in what eventually would become called Modern Physics. A great deal of our modern technological society depends on the understanding of the principles of Modern Physics, from medical X-rays and nuclear power, to semi-conductor microchips, lasers, superconductors and Global Positioning Satellites. So what we are celebrating in this 2005 World Year of Physics is the jumpstart Albert Einstein's 1905 work gave to the field of Modern Physics and to our modern world.
Last Update: 20 October 2004.Wednesday