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Translations of Encyclopedia about Physics


The History and Inventors of Physics

The history of physics is characterised above all by separate discoveries and inventors. The first observation or consideration that a person can use fire to defend itself against animals, or otherwise for preparing food, or the fact that fire can by fanned or even transported elsewhere (such as by transporting red hot coals), was decisive for the further development of man’s knowledge of nature. Such moments as the discovery how to control fire have hastened the development of the study of physics, where other influences have led the studies of physics down the wrong path (for example, people long believed that fire is made up of fire fibres called "flogiston"). Discoveries or the theses of many scientists, which were later proven as inadequate or even erred, served researchers in following generations as a basis for further discoveries which would advance civilisation significantly forward. The accession of industrialisation would not have been possible without, for example, the invention of the steam machine.

The beginnings and oldest advances in physics are difficult to find in history in that, back then, very little records were kept in written form. What is certain though is that, at the beginning of physics, researches focused primarily on the material characteristics of matter. This is further testified by the fact that new substances were continually being sought which would show optimum characteristics for human use. As such, mankind first used wood as a construction material, followed later by copper, bronze, and then iron.

Not all that provides evidence to the knowledge of physics was the direct result of research work. A good example of this is the construction of Egyptian pyramids where, three to four thousand years ago, Egyptians used the principle of inclined planes - what physics presently classifies to different machines - even though they were not aware of it. The principle of inclined planes consists of the fact that the force which a person must exert to overcome a certain height difference is always the same, independent of the fact whether they lift a weight by direct route or whether transport it up along a slanted path. Along a direct route, the energy required is distributed along a much shorter section than when transporting the weight along a slanted path. This means that a person using such a slanted path will exert less energy per distance traveled than someone who lifts up the weight along a direct route.

Even though it is clear today that the science of physics began very long ago, we know that it was born from physicists of ancient Greece who first described the affects of inanimate matter. These physicists wrote up theses and the first attempts at providing proof for their theories. Greek science was then later further developed by the Romans, and later still in the ninth century by Islam scholars, who then carried their knowledge over to the west.

After that, research stagnated, mostly due to the dogmatic influence of the Catholic church. Medieval man was characterised by someone who wanted to understand the bible and accept God. But there was also an awakened human curiosity which marked the end of the Middle Ages. Mankind wanted to know how nature worked and the explanation given it based on biblical dogmatism was no longer satisfactory.

The following centuries brought fantastic gains to physics concerning the knowledge of nature - a heliocentric view of the world, Newton’s theory of mechanics, Maxwell’s electro dynamics, Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity, and eventually quantum mechanics. We can wait in earnest anticipation what surprising discoveries physics will bring us in the future.

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