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Is Subatomic Physics a Stamp Collection ?

  1. Sep 29, 2004 #1
    Is Subatomic Physics a "Stamp Collection"?

    The question isn't long but I hope the answers will be more elaborate than what I asked. When I was in 9th grade I was going through a large bookstore and for some reason stopped at the science section and saw Kaku's Hyperspace. I figured I might as well expand my horizons a little bit so I read it and thought the ideas in the book were really interesting (and new to a 14 year old) but I remember as the book progressed further I was bombarded with new word after new word, usually in the form of a subatomic particle and they all seemed to have no relevance to each other. I came across a quote in (I believe) that likened modern physics to a "stamp collection" with all the crazy names and properties. Anyway I guess my point is do you think this is the case? Also, who said that quote? I can't remember for the life of me since I left all my nontechnical physics books back home when I moved off to college and Google isn't being kind to me.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 29, 2004 #2


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    The standard model (which incorporates Gell-Mann's eightfold way and so on) is actually a very elegant theory. The reason there are so many particles is that there are a variety of quantum numbers which can each take on a range of values. The naming conventions are sometimes a bit nutty, because early physicists didn't yet understand the entire model when they chose the names.

    - Warren
  4. Sep 29, 2004 #3


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    It would be a bit ironic, and sad, if physics has become that, since it was Rutherford who was often quoted as saying "All science is either physics or stamp-collecting".

    Let me put it this way. If you were to do an experiment in, let's say measuring the scattering rate of the quasiparticles in a "1-D" quantum wire, and you found a completely new effect that requires a revamping of the way 1-D charges interact with each other, the remification of this isn't JUST going to be within this small, niche area of physics, but rather it will be felt throughout physics. It will require the reexamination of various fundamental understanding of many-body interaction, especially in low-dimensional effects. This fundamental understanding is used in practically ALL areas of physics.

    Every areas of physics are inherently connected. No matter how diverse physics appears, we ALL share a common set of fundamental knowledge. We just APPLY them to various phenomena and area of studies. Thus, you cannot unravel one part of physics without affecting the others. Now does this sound like a field of study that is nothing more than just "stamp-collecting"?

    Furthermore, every idea, concept, definition, etc. in physics has an underlying, mathematical description. This means that they are all tied to some formulation or a more general description. Without understanding such formulation, these things will seem to appear out of nowhere, and that someone is making it up as he goes along. Pop-Science books that you read cannot start from ground zero and show you the complete picture - most people who read them do not have the skills nor patience to see the complete picture. So all these books can do is show you the tail end of the animal. However, just because you can only see the tail end, doesn't mean the rest of the animal does not exist.

  5. Sep 29, 2004 #4
    Well I guess I didn't mean to say that physics itself was stamp collecting but the approach that sometimes is taken just seems to me (uneducated in physics, only taking physics 2:E&M right now :p) like there's so much emphasis put on the particles and finding them rather than how they are related but I guess my question was nicely answered. It just kind of despaired me when I read a few of those books that none ever seemed to offer any answers besides things just "are" but it's good to know at the higher levels this seemingly random mass is sorted out. Thanks.
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