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Physics is a central subject of study throughout formal education. It is relevant to everyone, offering a window to understand the universe. Some people think of physics as the Swiss knife of science.

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Physics is a central subject of study throughout formal education. It is relevant to everyone, offering a window to understand the universe. Some people think of physics as the Swiss knife of science.

Students of engineering, chemistry, and biology cover many physics topics too. A good grasp of the basics of physics can help you understand technical problems and models in other science and engineering fields.

No matter which class you are currently in or which school you are attending, StudySmarter has something for everyone! From modern particle accelerators on the left to the most basic swing on the right, all devices and phenomena in the world include physics.

How can StudySmarter support me with physics?

The free content at StudySmarter can help you prepare for different levels of study and exams in physics. In addition, the StudySmarter app:

  • Creates an intelligent learning plan just for you.

  • Tracks your progress and motivates you with badges and awards.

  • Lets you quickly create notes and flashcards and share them with other students in your class. You can also join a wider learning community of other physics students.

Physics through the ages

The word ‘physics’ comes from ancient Greek and means ‘knowledge of nature’, although physics is older than this. Other cultures knew it as ‘the study of natural phenomena’, and the knowledge obtained was used to predict, calculate, and create applications, including:

  • Rudimentary electroplating from the Moche culture of ancient Peru, around 100-700 AC.

  • Magnetism studies in ancient China, around 400 BC.

  • Scientific method and reproducibility of results in ancient Egypt/Iran, around 1000 AC.

  • Prediction of astronomical events based on observations and measurements in Mexico, around 500 BC.

  • First philosophy of atomism in India, around 200-600 BC.

From old roman aqueducts to modern space technology, physics has long been a tool to create and develop solutions, enabling us to modify our world.

In modern times, physics has matured into a well-defined system of knowledge. This knowledge is used at any scale from atoms to galaxies and in any discipline from medicine to engineering.

Theoretical and experimental physics

Physics is divided into theoretical physics and experimental physics.

Theoretical physics focuses on making laws, theories and hypotheses that can describe patterns or things observed in the world.

Experimental physics makes observations on different phenomena using carefully designed experiments through the scientific method, which uses evidence to justify a belief or knowledge.

Experimental physics will observe patterns that theoretical physics will later try to describe. Theoretical physics makes predictions and creates models, and experimental physics can corroborate these observations.

Applied physics

Physics may be highly theoretical, but it converts a lot of knowledge into applications. Here’s a list of areas that use physics:

  • Medicine: Imaging techniques to observe internal parts of the body using sound or radiation, radiotherapy to target cancer cells, optics for implants in the eye, creating devices for endoscopy. Mechanical engineering: Design of devices modelled after the laws of movement and energy exchange interactions.

  • Aerospace: Applied theoretical aerodynamics for designing planes and other aircraft. Energy industry: Applications of thermal and energy exchanges and the study of electricity to generate and consume energy.

  • Electrical engineering and electronics: applied/theoretical knowledge modelling, designing and creating circuits, electronic devices and electrical networks.

  • Sensors: Used in physical chemistry, thermal engineering, optics, and others to create devices that can measure data.

  • Optics: Applications for sensing and manipulating visible light and other electromagnetic spectra.

  • Naval: Fluid mechanics and its applications to seafaring and ship technology.

  • Materials and structures: Knowledge of the forces applied to structures and objects. The composition of materials and how this composition can affect structures or the objects used in construction, medicine and other areas.

  • Food industry: applications that range from sterilisation to sample analysis.

Physics topics on StudySmarter

StudySmarter covers the following topics in physics.

  • Physical quantities and units: how to use units correctly and carry out calculations.

  • Measurements: how to measure directly and estimate errors in our measurements.

  • Radiation: important parts, laws and characteristics of the subatomic world, covering the atom, antimatter and electromagnetic radiation.

  • Waves: laws and characteristics that can be applied to wave phenomena, from ocean waves to sound and light.

  • Mechanics and materials: Laws of motion, kinetic and potential energy of objects. Properties of materials such as elasticity, density, and the use of vectors and scalars.

  • Electricity: The application of electricity to basic circuits, including resistances and power sources.

  • Further mechanics and thermal mechanics: Heat and how it moves between objects. Systems that move in circular motion and systems that describe an oscillatory pattern (harmonic systems).

  • Fields: Forces produced without contact such as gravity, magnetic forces and electrical forces. How planets and charges move in these fields.

  • Astrophysics: Observational tools such as telescopes and radio telescopes, and how they work. Planets and stars. Basic mechanics of physical laws, such as the doppler effect, Hubble law, and black body radiation.

  • Medical physics: applications of physics in medicine.

  • Applications of physics: Thermodynamics and rotational mechanics.

  • Turning points in physics: moments that changed physics forever.

Physics and maths

Physics requires an understanding of some areas of mathematics, including:

  • Calculus.

  • Differential equations.

  • Statistics.

  • Probability.

  • Algebra.

  • Mathematical analysis.

Study Smarter also provides topics and materials for chemistry, biology, and many other scientific areas related to physics.

Physics Flashcards, Summaries and contents

StudySmarter provides summaries, key takeaways, and flashcards for each topic.

  • Summaries: Summaries help you to understand the subject more intuitively without losing the formality of physics. They include key formulae and easy to follow examples, and the content is friendly and approachable.

  • Key takeaways: Detailing important information that you need to remember from each summary.

  • Flashcards: Questions that challenge what you read and what you understand. The questions mix content from the article you read, challenging you through the process in a non-linear way. The flashcards include some easier problems with hints on how to solve them, theoretical questions and multiple-choice questions.

Flashcards in Physics17021

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Who discovered the electron?

J. J. Thomson.

When was the electron discovered?

In 1897.

Were cathode ray tubes used in the discovery of the electron?

Yes, they were.

What was the first subatomic particle that was discovered?


Did the discovery of the electron disprove the idea of an indivisible atom?

Yes, it did.

Who proposed the theory of special relativity?

 Albert Einstein.


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