<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >
A high-resolution image of gold sheet obtained from S T M.
Using a scanning tunneling microscope (STM), scientists can see the individual atoms that compose this sheet of gold. (credit: Erwinrossen)

Some of the most spectacular advances in science have been made in modern physics. Many of the laws of classical physics have been modified or rejected, and revolutionary changes in technology, society, and our view of the universe have resulted. Like science fiction, modern physics is filled with fascinating objects beyond our normal experiences, but it has the advantage over science fiction of being very real. Why, then, is the majority of this text devoted to topics of classical physics? There are two main reasons: Classical physics gives an extremely accurate description of the universe under a wide range of everyday circumstances, and knowledge of classical physics is necessary to understand modern physics.

Modern physics itself consists of the two revolutionary theories, relativity and quantum mechanics. These theories deal with the very fast and the very small, respectively. Relativity must be used whenever an object is traveling at greater than about 1% of the speed of light or experiences a strong gravitational field such as that near the Sun. Quantum mechanics must be used for objects smaller than can be seen with a microscope. The combination of these two theories is relativistic quantum mechanics, and it describes the behavior of small objects traveling at high speeds or experiencing a strong gravitational field. Relativistic quantum mechanics is the best universally applicable theory we have. Because of its mathematical complexity, it is used only when necessary, and the other theories are used whenever they will produce sufficiently accurate results. We will find, however, that we can do a great deal of modern physics with the algebra and trigonometry used in this text.

A friend tells you he has learned about a new law of nature. What can you know about the information even before your friend describes the law? How would the information be different if your friend told you he had learned about a scientific theory rather than a law?

Without knowing the details of the law, you can still infer that the information your friend has learned conforms to the requirements of all laws of nature: it will be a concise description of the universe around us; a statement of the underlying rules that all natural processes follow. If the information had been a theory, you would be able to infer that the information will be a large-scale, broadly applicable generalization.

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

Phet explorations: equation grapher

Learn about graphing polynomials. The shape of the curve changes as the constants are adjusted. View the curves for the individual terms (e.g. y = bx size 12{y=bx} {} ) to see how they add to generate the polynomial curve.

Equation Grapher


  • Science seeks to discover and describe the underlying order and simplicity in nature.
  • Physics is the most basic of the sciences, concerning itself with energy, matter, space and time, and their interactions.
  • Scientific laws and theories express the general truths of nature and the body of knowledge they encompass. These laws of nature are rules that all natural processes appear to follow.

Conceptual questions

Models are particularly useful in relativity and quantum mechanics, where conditions are outside those normally encountered by humans. What is a model?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

How does a model differ from a theory?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

If two different theories describe experimental observations equally well, can one be said to be more valid than the other (assuming both use accepted rules of logic)?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

What determines the validity of a theory?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

Certain criteria must be satisfied if a measurement or observation is to be believed. Will the criteria necessarily be as strict for an expected result as for an unexpected result?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

Can the validity of a model be limited, or must it be universally valid? How does this compare to the required validity of a theory or a law?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

Classical physics is a good approximation to modern physics under certain circumstances. What are they?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

When is it necessary to use relativistic quantum mechanics?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

Can classical physics be used to accurately describe a satellite moving at a speed of 7500 m/s? Explain why or why not.

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

Questions & Answers

how lesers can transmit information
mitul Reply
griffts bridge derivative
Ganesh Reply
below me
please explain; when a glass rod is rubbed with silk, it becomes positive and the silk becomes negative- yet both attracts dust. does dust have third types of charge that is attracted to both positive and negative
Timothy Reply
what is a conductor
below me
why below you
no....I said below me ...... nothing below .....ok?
dust particles contains both positive and negative charge particles
corona charge can verify
when pressure increases the temperature remain what?
Ibrahim Reply
what is frequency
Mbionyi Reply
define precision briefly
Sujitha Reply
CT scanners do not detect details smaller than about 0.5 mm. Is this limitation due to the wavelength of x rays? Explain.
hope this helps
what's critical angle
Mahmud Reply
The Critical Angle Derivation So the critical angle is defined as the angle of incidence that provides an angle of refraction of 90-degrees. Make particular note that the critical angle is an angle of incidence value. For the water-air boundary, the critical angle is 48.6-degrees.
dude.....next time Google it
okay whatever
pls who can give the definition of relative density?
the ratio of the density of a substance to the density of a standard, usually water for a liquid or solid, and air for a gas.
What is momentum
aliyu Reply
mass ×velocity
it is the product of mass ×velocity of an object
how do I highlight a sentence]p? I select the sentence but get options like copy or web search but no highlight. tks. src
Sean Reply
then you can edit your work anyway you want
Wat is the relationship between Instataneous velocity
Oyinlusi Reply
Instantaneous velocity is defined as the rate of change of position for a time interval which is almost equal to zero
The potential in a region between x= 0 and x = 6.00 m lis V= a+ bx, where a = 10.0 V and b = -7.00 V/m. Determine (a) the potential atx=0, 3.00 m, and 6.00 m and (b) the magnitude and direction of the electric ficld at x =0, 3.00 m, and 6.00 m.
what is energy
Victor Reply
hi all?
energy is when you finally get up of your lazy azz and do some real work 😁
what is physics
faith Reply
what are the basic of physics
base itself is physics
tree physical properties of heat
Bello Reply
tree is a type of organism that grows very tall and have a wood trunk and branches with leaves... how is that related to heat? what did you smoke man?
algum profe sabe .. Progressivo ou Retrógrado e Acelerado ou Retardado   V= +23 m/s        V= +5 m/s        0__>              0__> __________________________>        T= 0               T=6s
Practice Key Terms 9

Get the best College physics course in your pocket!

Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'College physics' conversation and receive update notifications?