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Top 5 hallmark experiments in physics

  1. Sep 17, 2010 #1
    What would you say are the top 5 "hallmark"/landmark experiments in physics?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 17, 2010 #2
    Things fall at the same rate regardless of weight.
    Light travels at a constant velocity.
    Double slit experiment proving wave-particle duality.

    My historical perspective on physics is limited so my my top 5 will have to be limited to 3.
     
  4. Sep 17, 2010 #3
    A few:

    Classical mechanics: Measurement of G
    Electromagnetics: Faraday' induction ring/electric motor
    QM: Double slit experiment, and the Stern-Gerlach experiment
    GR : The 3 classical tests of general relativity
     
  5. Sep 17, 2010 #4

    Drakkith

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    I find this to be an impossible task. =)

    Since everything in science builds on everything before it i cannot pick out a certain 5 that i would say are the top.
     
  6. Sep 17, 2010 #5

    Andy Resnick

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    Glossing over differences between experiments, discoveries, and demonstrations; recognizing that '5' is too small a number, if we only include post-Newton, then my list is:

    Faraday's experiments demonstrating the relationship between electric and magnetic fields
    Galvani's experiments demonstrating the role of electricity in the body
    Michaelson and Morley's (failed) aether experiment
    The Stern-Gerlach experiment
    Strassman/Hahn's discovery of nuclear fission

    Including earlier scientific experiments:

    Torricelli's experiment (actually, Vincenzo Viviani's experiment) demonstrating the existence of a vacuum
    Galileo's experiments on falling objects
    Tycho Brahe's astronomical measurements

    Edit: Ack! I can't decide between Galvani and Maiman's demonstration of a laser.

    Edit#2: too much wild turkey, too early in the weekend. Galvani, not Volta.
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2010
  7. Sep 18, 2010 #6

    alxm

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    Jean Perrin's series of experiments finally proving "the discontinuous structure of matter", i.e. atoms.
    Mulliken's confirmation of the photoelectric effect.
     
  8. Sep 18, 2010 #7

    Danger

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    That's the main one that I was going to mention, since it kick-started Einstein to explore relativity.
    I don't think that this qualifies as an "experiment" in itself, but Marie Curie leaving a sample of radium in the drawer with a photographic plate definitely had some repercussions in the science community.
    There was also something about some old dude dropping cannon balls off of the Pisa tower...
     
  9. Sep 18, 2010 #8
    Controlled "experiment" or not, it's certainly a hallmark event. Many important developments involve some kind of accidents.
     
  10. Sep 18, 2010 #9

    Danger

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    Agreed. Things like the radium/film incident probably happen frequently. The "science" part enters the scene when someone not only notices an effect of the accident, but pursues the matter in the form of theorizing and experimenting to determine what happened.
     
  11. Sep 18, 2010 #10
    Since experimentalists are called for, many great names is Physics will be absent from the list.

    Prolific experimenters who struck out beyond the known wisdom of their time that come to mind are

    Erastothenes - realising the earth to be round and spinning and measuring its axial tilt and radius

    Hooke - experiments in elasticity and forces

    Faraday - experiments in electricity and magnetism

    Curies and Becquerel - experiments in radioactivity

    Crick and Watson - experimental molecular science
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2010
  12. Sep 18, 2010 #11
    Some condensed matter ones:
    Kamerlingh Onnes -- superconductivity in 1918
    Cornell and Wieman -- Bose Einstein condensate in 1995
    Grunberg -- giant magneto resistance effect in 1988
    von Klitzing -- integer quantum hall effect in 1980

    I like how, apart from the BEC, the measured effects were quite a suprise.

    Also funny: superconductivity was discovered in 1918, yet it took 40 years until BCS theory was developed. On the other hand, the BEC was theoretically predicted 70 years before its experimental realization.
     
  13. Sep 18, 2010 #12

    Andy Resnick

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    IIRC is was Becquerel who first discovered radioactivity/x-rays,etc by exposing film... but point well taken- that's why I chose the discoverers of fission.
     
  14. Sep 18, 2010 #13
    The Millikan oil drop experiment. Bridges classical and quantum physics with a simple setup.

    My lab partner, Thad, and I measured "e" within 1% using microscopic plastic spheres floating between two charged plates.

    Thad did the lion's share of the calculations.
     
  15. Sep 18, 2010 #14

    Redbelly98

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    Here are some more to consider. We learn about these (the consequences, not necessarily the experiments) so early in our education that they are often taken for granted.

    Roemer's measurement of the speed of light, demonstrating it's large-yet-finite value.

    Joule demonstrates the equivalence between mechanical energy and heat. A forerunner to the more general conservation of energy principle.

    Charles, Dalton, Guy-Lussac -- measuring volume vs. temperature of gasses at constant pressure, suggesting an absolute zero of temperature.
     
  16. Sep 18, 2010 #15

    OmCheeto

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    Cavendish and his big balls.
     
  17. Sep 18, 2010 #16

    Danger

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    Quite possible. Unfortunately, my lack of formal education includes history. :redface:
     
  18. Sep 18, 2010 #17

    Redbelly98

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    Well, my problem with the Cavendish experiment is that it merely determines the proportionality constant in Newton's Law of Gravitation. I think it was already accepted that it had to have some value.

    Establishing that the speed of light is not infinite was an entirely different class of revelation.
     
  19. Sep 18, 2010 #18

    Andy Resnick

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    If I may be so bold as to steal a quote:

    "The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality”
     
  20. Sep 18, 2010 #19
    I've always admired Foucalt's demonstration using the pendulum.
    And Milikan's Oil drop was really creative.
     
  21. Sep 18, 2010 #20

    Danger

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    But that's no excuse for me; I'm not a Yank. Inherent stupidity isn't part of my genetic code—I've had to work for it.
     
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