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What advance in Physics have had the most impact on history?

  1. Nov 2, 2003 #1
    Hello all,
    I was wondering what advance in physics had the most impact in history and why.

    Personally, it's tempting to say E=MC^2, which said it was possible to give us the bomb, but it seems that that is too recent to really calculate the effects.

    Perhaps Newton's laws of motion? Or magnetism which opened up the world? Electricity is perhaps another for obvious reasons.

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 2, 2003 #2


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    I'd say Newton's laws of motion most defintely, as they can be seen as instrumental in the industrial revolution. Relativty doesn't have far-reaching (current) practical applications as Newtonian physics, due to the simple fact that Newtonian physics acts as a very good approximation to R. in everyday situations.
  4. Nov 2, 2003 #3
    E=mc2 is utterly insignificant in the scope of its influence compared to Newton's mechanics or Maxwell's electromagnetism.

    Personally, I'd say that the "advance" with the most impact was the synthesis of theory and experiment. Galileo and Kepler are most famous for starting the modern trend, but it can be traced back to Archimedes, Erastothenes, and others.

    It's something that's so obvious to a scientifically-trained person today that it's sometimes overlooked, but the idea that you can formulate mathematical laws of nature by controlled experiment and careful quantitative observation is one that became widespread only relatively recently in the history of civilization --- but it is the basis for all modern science.
  5. Nov 3, 2003 #4
    I'm a big fan of Erastothenes too ambitwister. For those unfamiliar with his name, he was the guy who worked in the Library in Alexandria (370bc?) and read that at Syrene, the sun was reflected back perfectly from the water surface of a deep well, at midday on midsummers day. (ie the sun was directly overhead then)

    He knew that at the same time, buildings in Alexandria cast a shadow of just over 7 degrees. This showed the curvature of the earth if the sun's rays were considered to be parallel. Then, he had the distance from Syrene to Alexandria measured by walkers (with ropes between their ankles to standardise one step length) and thus calculated the diameter of the earth using simple geometry!

    His figure was within a few percent of the accepted value today.

    An Impressive chap!
  6. Nov 3, 2003 #5
    i believe......

    i belive that the discovery of the structure of an atom and the particles that exist in it is the most important discover because it has completely changed the way we look at the world.

    All For God!
  7. Nov 3, 2003 #6


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    The question was not about importance in general, but about impact on our lives. And in that category I have two candidates;

    1) Newton's three laws of motion, because they became the basis of civil and mecahnical engineering and thus for the bridges, airplanes, cars, and such that we rely on.

    2) Maxwell's laws of electromagnetism, which became the basis for the electronics industry including radio and television, computers and cell phones.
  8. Nov 3, 2003 #7
    Pretty hard to argue against that!
  9. Nov 3, 2003 #8

    Chi Meson

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    I agree with selfAdjoint. Newton and Maxwell would be vying for top prize. I always tend to lean toward Maxwell because, well no reason.

    Scots wha hae!
  10. Nov 4, 2003 #9
    I can easily see how Newton's Laws of Motion have affected out world greatly, but I'm still a little hazy on Maxwell.

    As far as my limited understand goes, he was the first to propose that light was a form of electromagnetic radiation. How has this affected history? Is it because of his theory that we know about frequencies which gave us radios, x-rays, and the like?

    The reason I'm asking is that I've got a physics essay on "in your opinion, which advance has had the most effect on history" and I'm probing for ideas right now. As it stands, I believe that Newton's Kinematics and Laws of Motion have greater influence, but electromagnetism sounds intriguing. Would anyone care to explain? Thanks.
  11. Nov 5, 2003 #10
    My Vote

    Copernicus for stopping the stars and moving the earth. Without this notion, I don't think you have many of the scientific insights that came about in the 1600's and therefore anytime afterward. Also, this had a profound effect on society and religion. I think Newton funs a very close second though.
  12. Nov 5, 2003 #11
    1.) Maxwell Equation

    2.) Newton's 3 equations of motion

    Not physic, rather math

    3.) Fourier series/laplace equation.
  13. Nov 6, 2003 #12

    Chi Meson

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    Without Maxwell, Einstein would not have discovered relativity.

    Without maxwell, Tesla would not have understood, perfected and propagated ac electricity.

    Without maxwell, people would not have the background necessary to make capacitors and inductors do what they want them to do. That is, no transistors, no computer chips, no etc etc.

    If there were no James Clerk Maxwell, someone else would have certainly figured it out by now, but everything we have today would have come about later. Everything electronic that we have here and now would not have been posiible if Maxwell was not there and then.

    The same is true for Newton, but isn't everyone else going to talk about Newton?
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