Archive for the ‘11th physics’ category

Physics XI | 1.4 FUNDAMENTAL FORCES IN NATURE

April 25th, 2010

1.4 FUNDAMENTAL FORCES IN NATURE

We all have an intuitive notion of force. In our experience, force is needed to push, carry or throw objects, deform or break them. We also experience the impact of forces on us, like when a moving object hits us or we are in a merry-go-round. Going from this intuitive notion to the proper scientific concept of force is not a trivial matter. Early thinkers like Aristotle had wrong ideas about it. The correct notion of force was arrived at by Isaac Newton in his famous laws of motion. He also gave an explicit form for the force for gravitational attraction between two bodies. We shall learn these matters in subsequent chapters.

In the macroscopic world, besides the gravitational force, we encounter several kinds of forces: muscular force, contact forces between bodies, friction (which is also a contact force parallel to the surfaces in contact], the forces exerted by compressed or elongated springs and taut strings and ropes (tension), the force of buoyancy and viscous force when solids are in contact with fluids, the force due to pressure of a fluid, the force due to surface tension of a liquid, and so on. There are also forces invoking charged and magnetic bodies. In the microscopic domain again, we have electric and magnetic forces, nuclear forces invoking protons and neutrons, interatomic and intermolecular forces, etc. We shall get familiar with some of these forces in later parts of this course.

A great insight of the twentieth century physics is that these different forces occurring in different contexts actually arise from only a small number of fundamental forces in nature. For example, the elastic spring force arises due to the net attraction/repulsion between the neighbouring atoms of the spring when the spring is elongated/compressed. This net attraction/repulsion can be traced to the (unbalanced) sum of electric forces between the charged constituents of the atoms.

In principle, this means that the laws for ‘derived’ forces (such as spring force, friction) are not independent of the laws of fundamental forces in nature. The origin of these derived forces is, however, very complex.

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Physics XI | 1.3 PHYSICS, TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY

April 25th, 2010

1.3 PHYSICS, TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY

The connection between physics, technology and society can be seen in many examples. The discipline of thermodynamics arose from the need to understand and improve the working of heat engines. The steam engine, as we know, is inseparable from the Industrial Revolution in England in the eighteenth century, which had great impact on the course of human civilisation. Sometimes technology gives rise to new physics; at other times physics generates new technology. An example of the latter is the wireless communication technology that followed the discovery of the basic laws of electricity and magnetism in the nineteenth century. The applications of physics are not always easy to foresee. As late as 1933, the great physicist Ernest Rutherford had dismissed the possibility of tapping energy from atoms. But only a few years later, in 1938, Hahn and Meitner discovered the phenomenon of neutron-induced fission of uranium, which would serve as the basis of nuclear power reactors and nuclear weapons. Yet another important example of physics giving rise to technology is the silicon ‘chip’ that triggered the computer revolution in the last three decades of the twentieth century.

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