Essays on Physics
By Ken Ford
These essays cover topics that may be of interest to teachers of introductory physics at both the high-school and college levels. They are based on the “Features” in Basic Physics: A Resource for Physics Teachers (World Scientific, 2016).
Most of the essays are edited versions of the Basic Physics Features—updated where necessary and with SI units replacing the original cgs units as needed. In the book there are 174 Features (plus, of course, all of the original text). These essays currently number 84. Interested readers may wish to acquire the book in addition to consulting these essays.
The essays are housed in seven sections, the first five of which follow the chronology of the great discoveries of physics—and the corresponding formulations of broad theories—from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. The sixth follows physics into the subatomic domain, and the seventh encompasses thoughts of a more general character.
Inertia and gravity. Energy and work. The unexpected depth of Newton’s first and third laws. The power of the “nothingness” of space.
Heat, energy, probability, entropy. Degrees of freedom that freeze and thaw. Dizzying variations of the second law of thermodynamics. Time’s arrow.
Fields and charge intertwined. Why does light travel at speed c? Where are the magnetic monopoles?
Observers, like politicians, agree about some things and disagree about others. Einstein brought more relativity and more invariance. How he figured out that E = mc2.
Particles make waves. The heart of Bohr’s 1913 work. What does angular momentum have to do with atomic shells?
Nuclear and electric forces combine and compete to shape the world. Heavy nuclei can come unglued; light nuclei can “burn.”
The heavens were the first “laboratory.” Things that change all the time, or some of the time, or never. When one thing overlaps another, A + A is not always 2A.
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