Physics is a scientific discipline belonging to the so-called natural sciences or “pure” sciences, whose antecedents date back to classical antiquity. Along with chemistry and biology, it has profoundly revolutionized the way we humans understand and deal with the world around us. the branches of physics.
While chemistry studies the composition of matter and biology living beings, physics is dedicated to the study and scientific description of the fundamental forces that govern the universe. According to the study of each of these forces, and the points at which it approaches the field of other sciences and disciplines, physics is divided into numerous branches or fields, each one endowed with its own name and objectives.
However, since physics is one of the oldest sciences, and since other disciplines that exist today have not always existed, it is common to distinguish, first of all, between the three great moments or the three great perspectives that it encompasses. the study of physics. Thus, we must first differentiate between:
Classical physics, whose antecedents come from classical antiquity, especially Ancient Greece, focuses on the study of phenomena in the universe that have a speed lower than that of light, and whose spatial scales are higher than those of the atom and molecules. Its principles are based on classical mechanics or Newtonian mechanics, since Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was one of its great thinkers.
Modern physics, whose beginnings date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when different concepts of classical physics were revolutionized thanks to the studies of Max Planck (1858-1947) and the theories of Albert Einstein (1879-1955): the Theory of Special Relativity and the Theory of General Relativity, opening the field of complex systems and non-Newtonian physics.
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Contemporary physics, the newest aspect of all, whose beginnings are located at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, dedicated to non-linear systems, processes outside of thermodynamic equilibrium and, in general, the most avant-garde and complex trends regarding the description of the functioning of the unobservable universe.
Branches of physics
Throughout its three moments, physics has accumulated possible fields of study, each of which inaugurates or comprises one of the so-called branches of physics, which we can summarize in its main and best-known aspects, which are the following:
Classic mechanics. Focused on the notion of movement at speeds below that of light and the macroscopic behavior of bodies, it is characterized by considering time as an invariant notion and the universe as a determined entity. It consists, in general, of vector mechanics, the result of the studies of Isaac Newton and his laws on motion, and analytical mechanics, of an abstract and mathematical nature, whose initiator is considered Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716).
Thermodynamics. Dedicated to the study of the energy balance of macroscopic systems, as well as their heat and energy transfer processes, the forms of the latter and how it can be used to carry out work.
Electromagnetism. It is the branch of physics that studies both electricity and magnetism, and does so in a unified way, that is, through the same and only theory. This means that he is interested in the phenomena of electric and magnetic fields, as well as their correspondences and interactions, among which light is contemplated to a certain extent. Its beginnings date from the studies of Michel Faraday (1791-1867) and James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879).
Acoustics. This is the name of the physics of sound, dedicated to the study of the nature and propagation of sound waves, their behavior in different media and their manipulation possibilities. Its applications are vital to the world of musical instruments, but they go much further in our daily lives.
Optics. If acoustics is the physics of sound, optics is the physics of light, dedicated to understanding the complex nature of the visible (and invisible) electromagnetic spectrum and its forms of interaction with matter: different media, reflective materials, and prisms. This discipline, arisen in ancient times but revolutionized during the Modern Age, allowed the creation of devices never before suspected by mankind, such as microscopes, cameras and corrective (medical) optics.
Fluid mechanics. Focused on the study of the movement of fluids and their interactions with the environment, as well as the forces that are its own and that allow it to resist shear stresses. This means that it studies liquids and gases, mainly, but also other complex forms of matter that are capable of flowing, that is, of becoming continuous media.
Quantum mechanics. This branch is dedicated to the study of nature at very small levels such as atomic and subatomic, as well as their dynamics and interactions, in terms of observable quantities. It is the immediate fruit of advances in physics at the beginning of the 20th century, which moved away from the postulates of classical mechanics to inaugurate a new field of study: that of the atom and its possible manipulations.
Chaos theory. Focused on the study of complex and dynamic physical systems, using Newton’s differential equations and the contributions of physicists such as Pierre Simon de Laplace (1749-1827), Henri de Poincaré (1854-1912) and Edward Lonrenz (1917- 2008), among others.
In addition, there are branches of physics that are born thanks to its interaction with other sciences and disciplines, such as:
Geophysics. As a result of the contact between physics and geology, it is dedicated to the study of the inner layers of our planet: its structure, its dynamics and its evolutionary history, taking into account what is known about the fundamental laws of matter: gravity, electromagnetism, radiation, etc.
Astrophysics. This is the physics of the stars, that is, the physics applied to the study of objects visible in outer space, such as stars, nebulae or black holes. Obviously, this discipline is born from the hand of astronomy and together with it provides immense amounts of information regarding how extra planetary space works and what conclusions can be drawn from its observation.
Physical chemistry. As its name indicates, it is the meeting point or point of contact between the science of forces (physics) and the science of matter (chemistry). Therefore, it consists of the study of matter using physical concepts, which can be a very broad field, as accepted by Gilbert Newton Lewis (1875-1946) when he defined it as “anything interesting”.
Biophysics. Obviously dedicated to the study of living beings from a physical perspective, especially at the level of molecular dynamics, that is, the exchange and interaction of subatomic particles and, therefore, energy, between and within living beings. .