Physics history

The history of physics is the set of events that led to the development of science dedicated to understanding and explaining the func tioning of the universe. His knowledge is valuable, as it shows us how all the discoveries, theories and physical laws were the product of the meticulous work of thousands of people throughout the history of humanity.

In addition, it allows us to understand the way in which the different studies, theories and discoveries evolved over the years, opening new paths for us to have, in this way, a more complete knowledge of the operation of our universe.

Beginnings of physics (6th century BC-16th century AD)

Illustration of the geocentric model of Ptolemy, where the Earth is the center of the universe.

Before Greek civilization, it is not known if there was any interest in trying to understand or explain nature, since the purpose of knowledge was rather practical : how to sow and hunt, how to build and combat enemies, and what plants or remedies use to relieve pain.

Early Greek scientists

The Greeks were the first to try to explain the motion of the stars and planets . It would be the beginning of astronomy. Thales of Miletus (624-547 BC) was the first Greek astronomer and mathematician, considered by many to be the first scientist of humanity.

The Greeks Pythagoras and Empedocles (492-430 BC) also provided their knowledge with the basis for the development of physics. But perhaps the first physicist in history was Anaxagoras (between 500 and 430 BC).

First atomic theory

The most important contribution of the Greeks of the 5th century BC. of C. was the atomic theory , conceived by Leucipo and later developed by Democritus of Abdera (born in 460 BC). According to Democritus, if a piece of matter were to divide continuously, it would come to a point where it would be indivisible: the atom.

Aristotle: the first influential scientist

Aristotle is undoubtedly the Greek who was most concerned with the search for knowledge in the fourth century BC. de C. Born in 385 a. of C. in Estagira, Aristotle created his own school in Athens, the Lyceum.

The intellectual orientation of the Lyceum was predominantly scientific. Aristotle sought the explanation of phenomena based on the natural world .

Euclid and mathematics

Euclid (325-265 BC) was a great Greek mathematician during the height of Hellenic culture. The elements geometry Euclid provided the basis for studies of Isaac Newton. This shows us that mathematics and physics always go hand in hand.

Archimedes: a lever to move the world

From Archimedes (287-212 BC) we know that he worked mainly in statics and hydrostatics, in addition to astronomy and optics. He is credited with the phrase “give me a foothold and I will move the world.”

Ptolemy and the geocentric model

Ptolemy (AD 85-165) was a famous second-century Egyptian astronomer and philosopher of the Christian era. His greatest contribution was the geocentric model: Earth is the center of the solar system. Their system prevailed for almost 1400 years.

First revolution of physics (XVI-XVIII centuries)

In the heliocentric planetary system, the Earth revolves around the Sun.

The Sun as the center of the universe

Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543) challenged the geocentric vision of Aristotle and Ptolemy by proposing the heliocentric planetary system . In this system, the sun is the center around which the Earth and the other planets revolve.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) proposed the three laws of planetary motion between 1609 and 1618. In them he states that the planets of the solar system move in elliptical orbits. Kepler also contributed to the study of the physics of optics.

The work of Copernicus and Kepler released European astronomers from the Aristotelian yoke. Now the operation of the heavens could be explained by the same physical laws of Earth. And so Galileo Galilei arrived.

Galileo: the birth of classical physics

For Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), the primary focus of physics was its reliance on observations and experimental evidence. Galilei improved the construction of the telescope, with which he could see the mountains of the Moon and Jupiter’s satellites. In addition, he supported with his discoveries the heliocentric theory of Copernicus.

Newton’s physical laws

The man who revolutionized physics was Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Famous for the law of universal gravitation , he also spelled out the laws of motion. Among other contributions, Newton described optical phenomena such as the nature and decomposition of light and the color of bodies. In addition, he developed differential and integral calculus and built a reflection telescope.

New era of physics (XVIII-XIX centuries)

Wilhelm Röntgen discovered X-rays in 1895.

The great contributions to physics that followed Newton were the discovery of the atom and the gas laws by John Dalton and the founding of physicochemistry by Amedeo Avogadro. Acoustics and theory of sound (Jonh William Strutt 1842-1919) and studies of electricity (Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790) were developed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Energy and thermodynamics

At the beginning of the 19th century, the terms energy and strength were used as synonyms. Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholz (1821-1894) conceived the principle of conservation of energy , later called “the first law of thermodynamics”. The second law of thermodynamics was proposed by Rudolf Clausius (1822-1888).

Waves and particles

The works of James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) unified the phenomena of electricity, magnetism, and light in one field: electromagnetism. It was Maxwell who first showed that electromagnetic radiation consists of waves.

See also Electromagnetism .

Radiations everywhere

X-rays (Wilhelm Röntgen 1845-1923), and radioactivity (Henri Becquerel 1852-1908, Marie Curie 1867-1934 and Pierre Curie 1859-1906) were discovered in the last decade of the 19th century .

Quantum revolution (20th century)


Albert Einstein (1879-1955) published his general theory of relativity in 1916, revolutionizing the vision of space, matter, energy, and time of the Newtonian era. The theory of relativity establishes that energy and mass are equivalent, as expressed by the famous equation E = mc 2 , where c is the speed of light.

The theory of the origin of the universe

Georges Lemaître (1894-1966) was fascinated with Einstein’s theory. Lemaître proposed in 1933 that the universe was expanding after the explosion of a primordial atom. It was Edwin Powell Hubble (1889-1953) who discovered in 1929 that galaxies external to the Milky Way galaxy were receding.

Thus, the improved big bang theory by George Gamow (1904-1968) is the most widely accepted explanation of the origin of the universe among physicists today.

See also Big Bang Theory .

The quanta and their mechanics

In 1901, Max Planck (1858-1947) proposed the energetic quanta , small wave packets, that would become the basis of quantum physics.

Werner Karl Heisenberg (1901-1976), Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961), and Paul Dirac (1902-1984) are considered the creators of quantum mechanics . Quantum mechanics is, to this day, the theory that explains all physical phenomena.

Nuclear physics (20th century)

Representation of the Chigago Pile-1, the world’s first nuclear reactor.

The first step in nuclear physics was taken by Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937). By bombarding nitrogen with a certain type of particle, it converted it to oxygen. It was the first transformation from one element to another.

The energy of the atom

When an atom breaks down, a chain reaction occurs that releases energy. This phenomenon explains the strength of an atomic bomb and the energy use in a nuclear power station. The first nuclear reactor to be activated was Chicago Pile-1, in December 1942, built to produce plutonium as a nuclear weapon.

Forces within the core

The union between protons and neutrons in the nucleus of the atom was discovered by Hideki Yukawa (1907-1981). Yukawa proposed the strong nuclear force as the force that keeps protons compressed within the nucleus. Then mesons are discovered that are particles that interchange between protons and neutrons.

See also What is physics?

Recent advances in physics (1960-2012)

Laser eye surgeries have revolutionized the treatment of visual problems.

The laser

The word laser comes from the English l ight to mplification by s timulated and mission of r adiation (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). The laser was created in 1957 by Charles Townes (1915-2015). Today the laser is widely used in DVD and CD players, fiber optic communications and in surgery.

The Large Hadron Collider

The large hadron collider GCH ( Large Hadron Collider ) is the world’s largest high-energy particle accelerator . The GCH was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research on the border of France and Switzerland. It consists of a tunnel with a circumference of 27 kilometers.

The GCH was primarily designed to produce collisions between proton beams. The rays travel within the circular tunnel guided by powerful electric magnets. With the GCH physicists seek to analyze the particles that are produced by colliding proton rays.

This is how on July 4, 2012 the Higgs particle or the Higgs boson was detected for the first time. This event brought to light one of the fundamental particles in the standard model of particle physics.


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