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The Physics Portal

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Various examples of physical phenomena

Physics (from Ancient Greek: (), romanizedphysik? (epist?m?), lit.'knowledge of nature', from phýsis 'nature') is the natural science that studies matter, its motion and behavior through space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves.

Physics is one of the oldest academic disciplines and, through its inclusion of astronomy, perhaps the oldest. Over much of the past two millennia, physics, chemistry, biology, and certain branches of mathematics were a part of natural philosophy, but during the Scientific Revolution in the 17th century these natural sciences emerged as unique research endeavors in their own right. Physics intersects with many interdisciplinary areas of research, such as biophysics and quantum chemistry, and the boundaries of physics are not rigidly defined. New ideas in physics often explain the fundamental mechanisms studied by other sciences and suggest new avenues of research in academic disciplines such as mathematics and philosophy.

Advances in physics often enable advances in new technologies. For example, advances in the understanding of electromagnetism, solid-state physics, and nuclear physics led directly to the development of new products that have dramatically transformed modern-day society, such as television, computers, domestic appliances, and nuclear weapons; advances in thermodynamics led to the development of industrialization; and advances in mechanics inspired the development of calculus. (Full article...)

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View of a tropical cyclone from space.
Hurricane Isabel in 2003 as seen from the International Space Station. The eye, eyewall, and surrounding rainbands, characteristics of tropical cyclones in the narrow sense, are clearly visible in this view from space.

A tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm system characterized by a low-pressure center, a closed low-level atmospheric circulation, strong winds, and a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms that produce heavy rain and/or squalls. Depending on its location and strength, a tropical cyclone is referred to by different names, including hurricane , typhoon , tropical storm, cyclonic storm, tropical depression, or simply cyclone. A hurricane is a tropical cyclone that occurs in the Atlantic Ocean and northeastern Pacific Ocean, and a typhoon occurs in the northwestern Pacific Ocean; in the south Pacific or Indian Ocean, comparable storms are referred to simply as "tropical cyclones" or "severe cyclonic storms".

"Tropical" refers to the geographical origin of these systems, which form almost exclusively over tropical seas. "Cyclone" refers to their winds moving in a circle, whirling round their central clear eye, with their winds blowing counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. The opposite direction of circulation is due to the Coriolis effect. Tropical cyclones typically form over large bodies of relatively warm water. They derive their energy through the evaporation of water from the ocean surface, which ultimately recondenses into clouds and rain when moist air rises and cools to saturation. This energy source differs from that of mid-latitude cyclonic storms, such as nor'easters and European windstorms, which are fueled primarily by horizontal temperature contrasts. Tropical cyclones are typically between 100 and 2,000 km (60 and 1,240 mi) in diameter. Every year tropical cyclones impact various regions of the globe including the Gulf Coast of North America, Australia, India and Bangladesh. (Full article...)
Mock mirage of the setting sun
  • ... that your watch would run slower when orbiting a black hole than it would on Earth?
  • ... that homing pigeons wouldn't be able to navigate on Mercury because the planet has no magnetic field or atmosphere?

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Difference between classical and modern physics

The basic domains of physics

While physics aims to discover universal laws, its theories lie in explicit domains of applicability. Loosely speaking, the laws of classical physics accurately describe systems whose important length scales are greater than the atomic scale and whose motions are much slower than the speed of light. Outside of this domain, observations do not match their predictions. Albert Einstein contributed the framework of special relativity, which replaced notions of absolute time and space with spacetime and allowed an accurate description of systems whose components have speeds approaching the speed of light. Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger, and others introduced quantum mechanics, a probabilistic notion of particles and interactions that allowed an accurate description of atomic and subatomic scales. Later, quantum field theory unified quantum mechanics and special relativity. General relativity allowed for a dynamical, curved spacetime, with which highly massive systems and the large-scale structure of the universe can be well-described. General relativity has not yet been unified with the other fundamental descriptions; several candidate theories of quantum gravity are being developed.

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Harold Melvin Agnew (March 28, 1921 - September 29, 2013) was an American physicist, best known for having flown as a scientific observer on the Hiroshima bombing mission and, later, as the third director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Agnew joined the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago in 1942, and helped build Chicago Pile-1, the world's first nuclear reactor. In 1943, he joined the Los Alamos Laboratory, where he worked with the Cockcroft-Walton generator. After the war ended, he returned to the University of Chicago, where he completed his graduate work under Enrico Fermi. (Full article...)

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Category puzzle

Fundamentals: Concepts in physics | Constants | Physical quantities | Units of measure | Mass | Length | Time | Space | Energy | Matter | Force | Gravity | Electricity | Magnetism | Waves

Basic physics: Mechanics | Electromagnetism | Statistical mechanics | Thermodynamics | Quantum mechanics | Theory of relativity | Optics | Acoustics

Specific fields: Acoustics | Astrophysics | Atomic physics | Molecular physics | Optical physics | Computational physics | Condensed matter physics | Nuclear physics | Particle physics | Plasma physics

Tools: Detectors | Interferometry | Measurement | Radiometry | Spectroscopy | Transducers

Background: Physicists | History of physics | Philosophy of physics | Physics education | Physics journals | Physics organizations

Other: Physics in fiction | Pseudophysics | Physics lists | Physics software | Physics stubs

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Physics topics

Classical physics traditionally includes the fields of mechanics, optics, electricity, magnetism, acoustics and thermodynamics. The term Modern physics is normally used for fields which rely heavily on quantum theory, including quantum mechanics, atomic physics, nuclear physics, particle physics and condensed matter physics. General and special relativity are usually considered to be part of modern physics as well.

Fundamental Concepts Classical Physics Modern Physics Cross Discipline Topics
Continuum Solid Mechanics Fluid Mechanics Geophysics
Motion Classical Mechanics Analytical mechanics Mathematical Physics
Kinetics Kinematics Kinematic chain Robotics
Matter Classical states Modern states Nanotechnology
Energy Chemical Physics Plasma Physics Materials Science
Cold Cryophysics Cryogenics Superconductivity
Heat Heat transfer Transport Phenomena Combustion
Entropy Thermodynamics Statistical mechanics Phase transitions
Particle Particulates Particle physics Particle accelerator
Antiparticle Antimatter Annihilation physics Gamma ray
Waves Oscillation Quantum oscillation Vibration
Gravity Gravitation Gravitational wave Celestial mechanics
Vacuum Pressure physics Vacuum state physics Quantum fluctuation
Random Statistics Stochastic process Brownian motion
Spacetime Special Relativity General Relativity Black holes
Quanta Quantum mechanics Quantum field theory Quantum computing
Radiation Radioactivity Radioactive decay Cosmic ray
Light Optics Quantum optics Photonics
Electrons Solid State Condensed Matter Symmetry breaking
Electricity Electrical circuit Electronics Integrated circuit
Electromagnetism Electrodynamics Quantum Electrodynamics Chemical Bonds
Strong interaction Nuclear Physics Quantum Chromodynamics Quark model
Weak interaction Atomic Physics Electroweak theory Radioactivity
Standard Model Fundamental interaction Grand Unified Theory Higgs boson
Information Information science Quantum information Holographic principle
Life Biophysics Quantum Biology Astrobiology
Conscience Neurophysics Quantum mind Quantum brain dynamics
Cosmos Astrophysics Cosmology Observable universe
Cosmogony Big Bang Mathematical universe Multiverse
Chaos Chaos theory Quantum chaos Perturbation theory
Complexity Dynamical system Complex system Emergence
Quantization Canonical quantization Loop quantum gravity Spin foam
Unification Quantum gravity String theory Theory of Everything

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