The History of Physics: A
history of physics
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.
The 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.
The 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.
Physicist 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
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.