Looking for a physics textbook which shows how to develop theory

In summary, the conversation revolved around the search for a textbook that shows the process of how a real physicist develops models and theories to explain experimental observations. The request was for a book that is understandable for undergraduate students and provides insights into the thought process of a physicist. While there may not be a general handbook for this, there is a book that touches on this topic. The conversation also mentioned the importance of having a mentor in academia to guide one's journey in physics.
  • #1
kay bei
21
5
I was wondering if there is any such textbook which shows how a real physicist actually goes about developing models and or theories to explain experimental observations. I want to see how it is done in practice. Is there such a book? At a level that an undergraduate can understand. It is great to solve problems in textbooks but it doesn't give me the sense that I am doing what a physicists would do at his job in real life. It would be great to see this in action. If there isn't such a textbook, please encourage great physicists you know to develop such a book.

Think about it for a second. Imagine a brilliant physicist, showing you how he goes about making models and theories. One page will explain the observation or phenomena, the next so many pages will be his process and narration of modelling and construction theory. The physicist might say, "First I'll start with ...because...", "this was a dead end for me, let's try...", "the reason I believe in this model is because...equations...more equations...". This would go on until the theorist believes the model/theory is complete. Then the next phenomena will be explored in order to answer questions. This could be a book of phenomena and the process of modelling and constructing theories for them. There could be say 10-20 chapters where each chapter is a separate phenomena.

We don't get this exposure from problem solving textbooks/standard textbooks. Students often left not understand what a physicists actually does. It can be a mystery.

If anyone knows of such a book, or the closest possible thing to what I'm describing, please share this. It would be such a valuable ressource to have. I know going to graduate school will expose us to this however not everyone wants to go to graduate school; some people want to learn this stuff in undergraduate days for motivation and interest. It would be an opportunity for everyone to job shadow a real physicist without having to become graduate student or find a job in a laboratory.
 
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  • #2
Are there any undergraduate research opportunities open to you at your university? That may be a good way to gain insights into the process of doing research...
 
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  • #3
kay bei said:
I was wondering if there is any such textbook which shows how a real physicist actually goes about developing models and or theories to explain experimental observations. I want to see how it is done in practice. Is there such a book? At a level that an undergraduate can understand. It is great to solve problems in textbooks but it doesn't give me the sense that I am doing what a physicists would do at his job in real life. It would be great to see this in action. If there isn't such a textbook, please encourage great physicists you know to develop such a book.

Think about it for a second. Imagine a brilliant physicist, showing you how he goes about making models and theories. One page will explain the observation or phenomena, the next so many pages will be his process and narration of modelling and construction theory. The physicist might say, "First I'll start with ...because...", "this was a dead end for me, let's try...", "the reason I believe in this model is because...equations...more equations...". This would go on until the theorist believes the model/theory is complete. Then the next phenomena will be explored in order to answer questions. This could be a book of phenomena and the process of modelling and constructing theories for them. There could be say 10-20 chapters where each chapter is a separate phenomena.

We don't get this exposure from problem solving textbooks/standard textbooks. Students often left not understand what a physicists actually does. It can be a mystery.

If anyone knows of such a book, or the closest possible thing to what I'm describing, please share this. It would be such a valuable ressource to have. I know going to graduate school will expose us to this however not everyone wants to go to graduate school; some people want to learn this stuff in undergraduate days for motivation and interest. It would be an opportunity for everyone to job shadow a real physicist without having to become graduate student or find a job in a laboratory.
no general handbook for this, friend, and be grateful bc that would be awful:) do your thing and most important have a mentor in academia to guide you. this is your journey and not found in a template anywhere :)
 
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  • #4
I know what you mean, i just feel it would be nice to see a professional physicist show and describe their process of modelling. I actually found a decent book on this topic, https://www.amazon.com/dp/331980068X/?tag=pfamazon01-20. The authors admit that the process of how a scientist goes about modelling is not well documented. The purpose of this book is to help document this and what it means to model. They provide real examples at end of book.
 
  • #5
caz said:
It’s a memoir, but I always felt that Magnets: The Education of a Physicist (1959) by Francis Bitter got right what it is like being a physicist in only 145 pages. Depending on your level, his Mathematical Aspects of Physics: An Introduction may also be of interest (1963, 180 pages).
https://www.amazon.com/dp/0385094140/?tag=pfamazon01-20
https://www.amazon.com/dp/0486435016/?tag=pfamazon01-20

Longair gives a historical driven approach to several areas of physics.
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1108484530/?tag=pfamazon01-20
If you are price sensitive, there are earlier editions.
I've read some of Francis Bitter's Mathematical Aspects of Physics. It's a great starting point for prepared high school students. This book does a pretty good job at describing the process in words mostly. Not as much of the computational and mathematical modelling process. I haven't read The Education of a Physicist but I like Bitter's writing and he really cares about showing students what a physicist actually does.

The following book https://www.amazon.com/dp/331980068X/?tag=pfamazon01-20 was quite good at describing this process. The authors say the idea is to go from phenomena to model. They mention you observe a phenomena or there is a phenomena you want to explain. You then can use theory to construct the model. However sometimes there is no theory and the scientist must build it. They then go on to explain how this can be done.

I am mostly interested in the second case where there is no current theory to explain the model. The process of building theory. All of our theories of physics had to be built this way because we went from having no theory to current theories. The book shows many examples but I am still hoping to find a more focused book dedicated to this process whereby the author takes you on a journey where you find a table of data from different experiments, try to explain using current theory, show when this theory fails, develop new model, try again a couple times (what the author would actually do), then if these all fail, try to create new theory to explain. This would be great especially from a theoretical physics perspective.

I read parts of Longairs first book. It was really good showing some of that process. I read the part on copernicus and tycho brahe. I didnt see him make any attempt to show the modelling process but mostly explained that the heliocentric model fit the data just as well as the previous Earth centric model. The two models predicted the same thing. The models were both correct until tycho brahe made more accurate and precise measurements. Then I think it was Kepler who used the data to figure it all out. But like I said, there was no attempt made in the book to show their models and mathematical methods based on the data.
 

1. What is the best way to develop a theory in physics?

The best way to develop a theory in physics is to start with a solid understanding of the fundamental principles and laws of physics. From there, you can use the scientific method to formulate a hypothesis, conduct experiments or gather data to test your hypothesis, and then analyze and interpret your results to refine your theory.

2. How can I find a physics textbook that focuses on theory development?

You can start by searching for textbooks specifically titled "Theory Development in Physics" or "Introduction to Theoretical Physics." You can also look for textbooks that are used in university courses on theoretical physics or ask for recommendations from physics professors or researchers.

3. Are there any online resources for learning how to develop theories in physics?

Yes, there are many online resources available for learning about theory development in physics. You can find lecture notes, video tutorials, and interactive simulations on websites such as Khan Academy, MIT OpenCourseWare, and Physics Classroom.

4. What are some key steps to keep in mind when developing a theory in physics?

Some key steps to keep in mind when developing a theory in physics include clearly defining the problem or phenomenon you are trying to explain, conducting thorough research and experimentation, considering alternative explanations, and constantly revising and refining your theory based on new evidence or data.

5. Can anyone develop a theory in physics, or do you need to have a specific background or qualifications?

Anyone can develop a theory in physics, but it does require a strong understanding of the subject and the scientific method. Having a background or qualifications in physics, such as a degree or experience in the field, can be helpful in understanding and applying complex concepts and theories.

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