The History of Physics: A
ranges from antiquity to modern string theory. Since early times,
human beings have sought to understand the workings of nature—why
unsupported objects drop to the ground, why different materials have
different properties, and so forth.
Initially, the behavior and
nature of the world and celestial phenomena were explained by invoking
the actions of the various gods. Then, one god became the explanation
for both. And then explanations for earthly events began to be
accepted based on speculation as to their cause and nature, while
celestial events were still felt to be of a divine nature, requiring
no explanation. Eventually, human beings began to look for scientific
explanations for both.
emergence of physics as a science, distinct from natural philosophy,
began with the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries
when the scientific method came into vogue.
Speculation was no longer acceptable; research was required.
beginning of the 20th century marks the start of a more modern
physics. Physicists began to study the atom, with its electrons and
nucleus. The nucleus was found to be composed of neutrons and protons.
Then came nuclear physics, where physicists began to look at the
forces that hold the nucleus together and the particles that account
for the four natural forces—strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force,
electromagnetic force, and gravitational force.
began to look for a unified theory that accounted for all four natural
forces, leading to chromodynamics, the electroweak theory, the
Standard Model, and string theory.
Although the great body of
knowledge we now call physics has come into being because of the work
of physicists, many individuals from other disciplines have
contributed, including those from mathematics, engineering, chemistry,
and medicine. And at least one botanist made a significant
To those who made
significant contributions to physics, and I inadvertently left them
out of this book, I humbly apologize.
Those individuals whose
contributions have been mainly astronomy or astrophysics are notably
absent. An additional volume, The History of Astronomy and
Astrophysics, is also available.
I have chosen to approach
the history of physics from a biographical point of view, feeling that
people are more interesting than things, and the combination of the
two are more interesting than the sum of the individual parts. After a
brief overview of classical and modern physics, 337 one-page
biographies of individuals who have made significant contribution to
the field of physics are presented.