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The future of Physics

  1. Jan 18, 2014 #1
    Hi all.

    I am new to this board and had a question i thought id throw out there. I am currently not studying, as i have deferred my studies from the University i was at (University of Western Australia) and intend to go back in the near future and start a Science degree.

    I haven't had much to do with Physics in the past, and hopefully will be able to take some foundational Physics units when i go back to University and see how i go with them. I have taken to reading most of the main books in the "popular science" catagory, one of them being Sam Keans book "The Disappearing Spoon", which is a book on the lives and history of Chemistry.

    Sam Kean is a science writer but did his undergraduate training in Physics. In the book he says in passing (and im paraphrasing) "the 20th century was the century of Physics. The 21st century will be the century of Biology". I think what he meant by that was the new ground being broken in Genetics, Cell and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, etc.

    But that statement intrigued me and i spent a few weeks researching it (on the net as Sam Kean does not elaborate on that statement). The argument it seems, is as follows. Physics is stuck in a rut, and hasnt made any groundbreaking advances in 30 odd years. Physics has spent that long going after untestable theories, and is becoming increasingly divorced from reality (10-26 dimensions, untestable theories, etc).

    I personally dont know what to think and cant venture an educated opinion as i have not studied physics, especially not at a graduate level. So my question is what do you guys think? What is the future of Physics? Is Physics going to lose its prestige and is Biology ascendant? Or will Physics remain the fundamental area of Science for the forseeable future?

    Thanks all. I
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 18, 2014 #2

    phinds

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    This kind of nonsense comes up here from time to time, but it's just that ... nonsense.

    Try a forum search and you'll see what I mean.
     
  4. Jan 18, 2014 #3
    Ok, ill do that. Thanks.
     
  5. Jan 19, 2014 #4

    Astronuc

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    I would disagree that ground-breaking advances have not been made. We have learned a lot of the past 30 years - especially at lower length scales.

    Perhaps discovery is becoming more challenging.

    There are new developments in areas like condensed matter physics and astrophysics all the time. Some discoveries take a decade or more, or sometimes, someone finds something new or an apparent exception.
     
  6. Jan 19, 2014 #5
    People think physics is at a standstill because when you take a modern physics class, most of the stuff you learn about happened in the late 1800's and early 1900's.
     
  7. Jan 19, 2014 #6

    ZapperZ

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    There's so many fallacy built on ignorance in this statement, I'm not even sure where to start!

    The first major problem is the term "groundbreaking advances". Who gets to define such a thing?! Is there really an agreed-upon, unambiguous definition that we can apply? If not, then this whole thing is moot and we are arguing about our favorite color. This is because what you term as not ground-breaking, I term it as such. I consider, for example, the discovery of the neutrino mixing as groundbreaking. You may be ignorant on why this is such an earth shattering discovery, but it nevertheless is HUGE. Such a discovery made the top 10 science news of that year when it happened. Is this not "groundbreaking enough"?

    And I haven't even mentioned yet the observations that led to the idea of dark matter and dark energy.

    Secondly, claiming that "... Physics has spent that long going after untestable theories... " shows utter ignorance of physics field. The subject area that deal with such "untestable theories" is such a small fraction of physics! Try looking at the memberships of physics in the American Physical Society, for example. Look at the fraction of people who are working in such a field. How about less than 10%? Is such a small number REPRESENTATIVE of the whole field of physics? How is it that one looks at the small minority of a group of people, and then somehow able to blatantly make overgeneralization of that entire group? Is this rational?

    The LARGEST percentage of practicing physicists are in condensed matter/solid state/material science. This is the area that is responsible for everything from your iPhone to your solid state drive to your capacitive touch screen, etc...etc. Why aren't this LARGE group of people being used as representative of "physics"? Aren't they a more accurate representation of "physics" than those people "... going after untestable theories"?

    I don't get it!

    Zz.
     
  8. Jan 19, 2014 #7
    Because string theoriest has a monopoly on the popular science media channels, and that's almost all laymen hear about. If you look at pretty much every "popularizer" such as Kaku, Greene, Susskind, Krauss, etc... they're all either cosmologists, string theorists or both. I guess the real physists are busy doing the real physics.
     
  9. Jan 19, 2014 #8

    ZapperZ

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    That is certainly true. But for ANYONE who wishes to say something rational about anything, I find it hard to believe that some people are still basing their knowledge on popular media and then, have zero qualms exposing their ignorance to the masses. Using the act of the minority to make broad characterization of the majority is a heinous behavior that has resulted in many despicable acts throughout human history. One would think that people would have learned from such stupid acts.

    Zz.
     
  10. Jan 19, 2014 #9

    phinds

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    I admire your optimism.
     
  11. Jan 19, 2014 #10
    Thanks for your reply. I can sense your frustration, but please know i wasnt trying to offend anyone. I knew it was going to be risky coming onto a Physics forum dominated by passionate Physicists and starting a thread calling into question the future of Physics. Note though that at the outset i admitted my ignorance on the topic, at least compared to those with training in the field.

    I do hope your right, and i suppose any field would have a hard time keeping up with the extraordinary progress that was made in the first half of the 20th C. Einstein, Fenyman, et al. Not to mention the Cold War and the massive funding that went into Nuclear Physics.

    As someone who has only just begun my journey in Science i obviously want to ride the crest of the wave of the future - any aspiring Science geek wants to be where the action is, where the breakthrough's are being made, where the cutting edge technology and advances are happening... In short, where things are the most exciting.

    Cheers.
     
  12. Feb 1, 2014 #11
    So are you saying that someone getting their information from "pop" sources is a little Hitler in the making?
     
  13. Feb 1, 2014 #12

    ZapperZ

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    Not unless you think that those sources are SUFFICIENT to give you the accurate information for you to make wholesale characterization of a group of people. Reread carefully the statement that you quoted.

    Zz.
     
  14. Feb 4, 2014 #13

    samalkhaiat

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    I cannot believe I am hearing this in the 21 century. “Less than 10%” is rather natural, because they are THE BRAVEST. One needs to possess extreme courage and skills to be able to work on ideas which lay beyond our current technological abilities to test them. That is, my friend, the success story of theoretical physics.


    Sam
     
  15. Feb 5, 2014 #14

    phyzguy

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    I would argue that, regardless of the progress physics makes in the future, physics is unlikely to have the impact on our everyday lives in the 21st century that it had in the 20th century. The things physics is working on now are more fundamental questions and probably don't have much practical application. The things in physics that impact our everyday lives are already pretty well understood. Biology, on the other hand, has the potential to fundamentally change what it means to be human. Genetic engineering, directed evolution, neural science, etc. will have major impacts on our lives. I think this is what Keans meant.
     
  16. Feb 5, 2014 #15
    I'm very tempted to write a book entitled "Amazing 21st century physics you never heard of." Knots of light. Quantum topology. Superconducting neutron stars.

    Physics isn't stuck in a rut, but popularization of physics is. All people ask about here are special relativity, quantum mechanics, string theory, black holes, and the Big Bang. I guess physics popularizers just imitate one another and don't bother to look at anything new.
     
  17. Feb 6, 2014 #16

    ZapperZ

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    Er... come again?

    The largest percentage of practicing physicists are in the area of condensed matter/material science. Do you have a smart phone? Where do you think research in capacitive touch material came out of? Have you looked at Phys. Rev. B lately? Compare the number of papers published in ONE MONTH of Phys. Rev. B with the other Phys. Rev. journals. You'll be astounded. And have you read J. of Appl. Phys. lately? In fact, the APS has even started a new journal called Phys. Rev. Appl., just to cater for the application side of physics!

    Just because you are not aware of it, and just because the subject isn't sexy enough, doesn't mean that there are no important outcome from it.

    Zz.
     
  18. Feb 6, 2014 #17

    phyzguy

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    You're right of course. My point was in referring to more fundamental physics, such as the nature of dark matter/dark energy, string theory, etc., which is the kind of thing people are talking about when they say that physics is "stuck in a rut". What I was trying to say was that understanding dark matter or developing a "theory of everything" will probably not have the same impact on our everyday lives that understand nuclear energy and quantum mechanics did a century ago. You are of course correct that the work in the more applied areas of physics like condensed matter and materials science will continue to have a large impact on our everyday lives.
     
  19. Feb 6, 2014 #18
    We have separate subjects given as Theoretical physics and Applied sciences (physics being among them).
    I think physics isn't going anywhere.
     
  20. Feb 7, 2014 #19

    ZapperZ

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    But how can you tell? If you were living at the beginning of the 20th century, would you have been able to predict the impact of the solution to the puzzle of the non-covariant issue of Maxwell equation? Would you have seen the future that resulted in the blackbody radiation? Could you have foreseen that the early high energy physics experiments led to all these synchrotron accelerators that are now a vital tool in studying everything from structural biology to the material you used in your electronics? Those things were thought to be purely esoteric at that time as well!

    There's another issue here that we have neglected. The pursuit in understanding dark matter, neutrino oscillation, high energy/particle physics involves experimental work, and you and I are, RIGHT NOW, enjoying the benefits of the science and technology involved in these experiments. High energy physics experiments, especially, advanced the technology of computing, of detectors, of high-speed electronics so much, they are the impetus for pushing the envelope in these areas and forced innovations just to meet the demands required by those experiments. You could reap the benefit of a safer and faster PET-scan in a few years just because a bunch of physicists want larger, cheaper photodetector for neutrino experiments!

    Zz.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2014
  21. Feb 11, 2014 #20
    i don't know,but i think there is something incorrect with physics because when i study the modern physics i feel it is not like the classic's physics.i feel the classic physics was strong and easy to understand.
    with all i love physics not for his formula,just for his purpose to discover the universe.
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2014
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