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Commonly Asked Questions in Physics

Book Description

In the 300 years since Newton’s seminal work, physics has explained many things that used to be mysterious. Particularly in the last century, physics has addressed a range of questions, from the smallest fundamental particles to the large-scale structure and history of the entire universe. But there are always more questions.

Suitable for a wide audience, Commonly Asked Questions in Physics covers a broad scope of subjects, from classical physics that goes back to the age of Newton to new ideas just formulated in the twenty-first century. The book highlights the core areas of physics that predate the twentieth century, including mechanics, electromagnetism, optics, and thermodynamics. It also focuses on modern physics, covering quantum mechanics, atomic and nuclear physics, fundamental particles, and relativity.

Each chapter explains the numbers and units used to measure things and some chapters include a "Going Deeper" feature that provides more mathematical details for readers who are up to the challenge. The suggested readings at the end of each chapter range from classic textbooks to some of the best books written for the general public, offering readers the option to study the topic in more depth.

Physics affects our lives nearly every day—using cell phones, taking x-rays, and much more. Keeping the mathematics at a very basic level, this accessible book addresses many physics questions frequently posed by physics students, scientists in other fields, and the wider public.

Table of Contents

  1. Preface
  2. Acknowledgments
  3. About the Author
  4. Chapter 1 - Classical Mechanics
    1. What is Physics?
    2. What Is the SI System of Units?
      1. How Are SI Units Defined?
      2. What Are SI Base Units and Derived Units?
      3. Are SI Units the Only Ones Used in Physics?
    3. What Are Velocity and Acceleration?
      1. Are Velocity and Speed the Same?
    4. What Is a Force?
      1. What Are Newton’s Laws of Motion?
      2. Are Mass and Weight the Same?
      3. Why Do Different Masses (or Weights) Fall at the Same Rate?
      4. What Are Friction and Drag Forces?
    5. What Are Work and Energy?
      1. What Is the Work–Energy Theorem?
      2. What Is Potential Energy?
      3. What Is Conservation of Mechanical Energy?
      4. What Is Power?
    6. What Is Momentum Conservation?
      1. How Do Rockets Work?
      2. What Is Center of Mass?
    7. What Is Simple Harmonic Motion?
    8. What Are Torque and Angular Momentum?
      1. What Is a Gyroscope?
    9. What Is Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation?
      1. Why Is Newton’s Gravitation Law Considered “Universal”?
      2. What Keeps Planets and Satellites in Orbit?
      3. What Orbits Do the Planets Follow?
      4. What Other Kinds of Orbital Paths Are Possible?
      5. What Is a Geosynchronous Satellite?
      6. Why Does the Acceleration due to Gravity Vary with Altitude and Latitude?
      7. What Is the Coriolis Force?
    10. Can Classical Mechanics Explain Everything?
    11. Further Readings
  5. Chapter 2 - Electromagnetism and Electronics
    1. What Are Electric Charges, and How Do They Affect Each Other?
      1. Why Do I Get Shocked after Walking on Carpet?
      2. What Is Coulomb’s Law?
      3. How Strong Is the Electric Force Compared with Gravity?
      4. What Is Quantization of Charge?
    2. What Is an Electric Field?
      1. What Happens in a Thunderstorm?
    3. What Is Electric Potential?
    4. What Is a Capacitor?
      1. How Does a Defibrillator Work?
    5. What Are Electric Current and Resistance?
      1. What Is Ohm’s Law?
    6. What Are Semiconductors?
      1. What Are Diodes and Transistors?
    7. What Are Superconductors?
      1. What Are Some Applications of Superconductors?
    8. What Are Magnetic Dipoles and Magnetic Fields?
      1. What about Earth’s Magnetic Field?
      2. How Do Animals Use Earth’s Magnetic Field?
    9. What Is Electromagnetism?
      1. What Is Magnetic Induction?
      2. How Does an Electromagnet Work?
      3. What Is a Solenoid?
      4. How Are Magnetic Materials like Electromagnets?
    10. What Are Direct Current and Alternating Current?
    11. How Do Electric Motors Work?
    12. What Is an Electromagnetic Wave?
      1. What Is the Electromagnetic Spectrum?
      2. How Does Wireless Communication Work?
      3. How Does a Microwave Oven Work?
    13. Further Readings
  6. Chapter 3 - Solids and Fluids
    1. What Are the States of Matter?
      1. What Is Plasma?
      2. How Are the States of Matter Related to Density, Pressure, and Temperature?
      3. What Makes Some Solids Stronger Than Others?
    2. What Is a Fluid?
      1. Why Does Fluid Pressure Depend on Depth?
      2. How Does a Barometer Work?
      3. What Is Decompression Sickness?
      4. How Is Air Pressure Related to Weather?
      5. What Does Your Blood Pressure Mean?
      6. What Causes Buoyancy?
      7. What Is Bernoulli’s Principle?
      8. What Is Surface Tension?
      9. What Is a Superfluid?
    3. What Are Transverse and Longitudinal Waves?
      1. What Is Wave Interference?
      2. What Is a Standing Wave?
      3. What Is a Tsunami (Tidal Wave)?
    4. How Is Sound Generated?
      1. What Is the Speed of Sound?
      2. What Is the Decibel Scale?
      3. How Does Your Hearing Work?
    5. How Are Music and Musical Harmonies Made?
    6. What Is the Doppler Effect?
    7. What Makes a Sonic Boom?
    8. Further Readings
  7. Chapter 4 - Quantum Mechanics
    1. What Is Quantization?
      1. How Are Mass and Electric Charge Quantized?
      2. How Is Atomic Energy Quantized?
      3. What Is Blackbody Radiation?
      4. How Is Electromagnetic Radiation Quantized?
      5. What Is a Photon?
      6. What Is the Photoelectric Effect?
    2. What Is Wave–Particle Duality?
      1. What Does the Two-Slit Experiment Reveal about Wave–Particle Duality?
      2. What Are Particle Waves?
    3. What Is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle?
    4. What Does Quantum Mechanics Tell Us about Hydrogen Atoms?
      1. How Does Quantum Mechanics Describe Transitions between States?
      2. How Does Quantum Mechanics Apply to Other Atoms?
      3. What Is the Zeeman Effect?
      4. What Is the Stern–Gerlach Experiment?
      5. What Are NMR and MRI?
    5. What Is Quantum Tunneling?
    6. What Is a Quantum Computer?
    7. What Are Some Other Applications of Quantum Mechanics?
    8. Further Readings
  8. Chapter 5 - Light and Optics
    1. What Is Light?
      1. What Are Ray Optics and Wave Optics?
    2. What Is the Law of Reflection?
      1. How Does the Law of Reflection Explain the Images You See in a Mirror?
      2. Why Doesn’t Everything Reflect like a Mirror?
      3. How Do Curved Mirrors Form Images?
    3. What Is Refraction?
      1. What Is Total Internal Reflection, and How Is It Used?
      2. What Is Dispersion?
      3. Why Do Diamonds Sparkle?
      4. How Do Rainbows Form?
    4. How Do Lenses Work?
      1. How Do Converging Lenses Form Images?
      2. Does Your Eye Form Images This Way?
      3. What Are Aberration Effects in Lenses?
    5. What Are Some Common Refractive Vision Disorders, and How Are They Corrected with Lenses?
      1. What Does Your Corrective Lens Prescription Mean?
    6. How Do Microscopes Work?
      1. What Is an Electron Microscope?
    7. How Do Telescopes Work?
      1. How Does a Refracting Telescope Work?
      2. How Does a Reflecting Telescope Work?
      3. What Are Some Novel Designs for Modern Reflecting Telescopes?
      4. Can You Use Telescopes to See Other Kinds of (Invisible) Radiation?
    8. How Does Interference Reveal Light’s Wave Properties?
      1. Can You See Thin-Film Interference from White Light?
      2. Are There Any Useful Applications of Interference?
    9. What Is Diffraction?
    10. What Is Polarization, and Why Is It Useful?
    11. Why Is the Sky Blue?
    12. How Do Lasers Work, and What Makes Them Different from Other Light Sources?
      1. How Do CD and DVD Players Work?
    13. What Is a Light-Emitting Diode?
    14. What Is a Solar (Photovoltaic) Cell?
    15. Further Readings
  9. Chapter 6 - Thermodynamics
    1. What Is Temperature?
      1. What Are Some Common Temperature Scales?
    2. What Is the Kinetic Theory of Gases?
    3. What Is Thermal Expansion?
    4. What Are the Units for Thermal Energy, Heat, and Food Energy?
    5. What Are Heat Capacity and Specific Heat?
      1. How Is Specific Heat Measured for Gases?
      2. What Is the Equipartition Theorem?
    6. What Are Phase Changes?
      1. What Is Latent Heat?
      2. What Is Evaporative Cooling?
    7. What Is the First Law of Thermodynamics?
      1. What Are Conduction, Convection, and Radiation?
      2. How Does a Thermos Bottle Work?
      3. What Is the Greenhouse Effect?
    8. What Is the Second Law of Thermodynamics?
      1. What Is Entropy?
    9. What Is a Heat Engine?
      1. How Do Refrigerators, Air Conditioners, and Heat Pumps Work?
      2. What Is a Fuel Cell?
    10. What Are Quantum Statistics?
    11. How Cold Can You Get?
    12. Further ReadingS
  10. Chapter 7 - Atoms and Nuclei
    1. Atoms and Elements—What Are They?
      1. What Are Atomic Spectra?
    2. What Is the Rutherford–Bohr Model of the Atom?
    3. What Are Atomic Orbitals and Shells?
      1. How Do Atomic Shells and Subshells Explain the Periodic Table?
    4. How Are X-Rays Produced?
      1. What Is the Difference between Characteristic and Bremsstrahlung X-Rays?
      2. How Do Medical X-Rays Work?
    5. What Are the Basic Properties of Nuclei?
    6. What Is the Strong (Nuclear) Force?
    7. How Are Nuclei Bound by the Nuclear Force?
      1. Which Combinations of Z and N Are More Stable?
    8. What Is Nuclear Binding Energy?
    9. What Are the Benefits and Dangers of Radioactive Nuclei?
      1. What Is Alpha Decay?
      2. What Is Beta Decay?
      3. What Is Gamma Decay?
      4. What Is a Radioactive Half-Life?
      5. What Are Decay Chains?
      6. How Are Radioactive Nuclides Used in Medicine?
      7. How Does Radioactive Dating Work?
    10. What Is Fission?
      1. What Is a Chain Reaction?
      2. What Makes an Atomic Bomb Work?
      3. How Much Energy Is Released in Fission?
      4. How Does a Nuclear Reactor Work?
    11. What Is Fusion?
      1. What Is a Hydrogen Bomb?
      2. What Are the Prospects for Large-Scale Energy Production from Fusion?
    12. Further Readings
  11. Chapter 8 - Fundamental Particles and Forces
    1. What Are Fundamental and Composite Particles?
    2. What Are the Historical Roots of the Search for Fundamental Particles?
    3. What Is Antimatter?
      1. What Is the Relative Abundance of Matter and Antimatter in the Universe?
    4. What Is the Particle Zoo?
    5. How Do Particles Mediate Forces?
    6. What Are Quarks?
      1. What Is Color Charge?
      2. What Are Gluons?
      3. What Is Quark Confinement?
    7. What Are Leptons?
      1. What Is Neutrino Oscillation?
    8. What Is the Weak Force?
    9. What Is a Feynman Diagram?
    10. What Conservation Laws Are Associated with Hadrons and Leptons?
    11. What Is the Higgs Boson?
    12. What Is Unification?
    13. Further Readings
  12. Chapter 9 - Relativity
    1. What’s the Difference between Special Relativity and General Relativity?
    2. How Was Special Relativity Developed?
    3. What are the Two Principles (or Postulates) of Special Relativity?
    4. How Are Time and Distance Measurements Affected in Relativity?
      1. What Are Proper Time and Proper Length?
      2. How Are Time Dilation and Length Contraction Related?
      3. What Is the Twin Paradox?
      4. Can You Travel Backward in Time?
    5. What Is Spacetime?
    6. How Are Velocity Measurements Affected by High Speeds?
    7. What Is the Doppler Effect?
    8. What Is Relativistic Energy?
      1. What Are Photons?
    9. How IS Relativity Connected to Electromagnetism?
    10. What Is the Principle of Equivalence?
    11. How Does General Relativity Describe Gravity?
    12. What Are Some Consequences of General Relativity?
    13. What Is a Black Hole?
    14. What Are Gravitational Waves?
    15. How Do We Use Relativity?
    16. So Is Everything Really Relative?
    17. Further Readings
  13. Chapter 10 - Astrophysics and Cosmology
    1. What Are Astronomy, Astrophysics, and Cosmology?
    2. How Was Our Solar System Formed?
      1. How Was the Moon Formed?
    3. What Are the Orbits of the Planets?
    4. What Other Objects Are in the Solar System?
      1. Why Isn’t Pluto Considered a Planet?
      2. What Is the Solar Wind?
    5. What Are Stars?
      1. How Do Stars Evolve in Time?
      2. How Are Stars Classified?
    6. What Is a Supernova?
    7. What Are Galaxies?
    8. How Has the Universe Evolved in Time?
      1. What Is the Evidence for the Big Bang and Expanding Universe?
      2. How Are Cosmic Distances Determined?
    9. What Are Dark Matter and Dark Energy?
    10. Where Do We Go from Here?
    11. Further Readings