The historical development of physics concepts: who did what and when.

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Why are lab Magnets painted red?

Wy are lab magnets painted red in color? I tried searching everywhere but couldn't get a satisfactory answer.
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80 views

Victorian cosmology after the second law of thermodynamics but before relativity?

In the 19th century, most astronomers adopted an island universe model, in which our galaxy was the only object in an infinite space. They didn't know that the "spiral nebulae" were other galaxies. ...
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115 views

Historical reason behind using $ν$ instead of $f$ to stand for frequency in the equation $E=hν$?

Normally, we use the letter $f$ to stand for frequency in equations. $$T = 1/f$$ $$v = \lambda f$$ $$Φ +E_k = h f$$ So I'm curious as why the letter $ν$ (nu) is used to represent frequency in the ...
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79 views

Obtaining a measurement very indirectly [closed]

While answering a question I came to reflect on the fact that in science experimental setups measure things indirectly. Example: the setup of the Pound-Rebka experiment. The amount of absorption was ...
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50 views

Availability of the Larkin's paper: Application of superconductivity theory methods to the problem of the masses of elementary particles (1961)

Discussing with colleagues (mostly condensed matter ones), we were astonished there is no mention about the work by Larkin in the announcement of the Nobel Prize committee this year. The title of the ...
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95 views

How Was the Speed of Light Discovered? [closed]

The title pretty much says everything; I just want to know how the speed of light was discovered.
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102 views

When did we learn that stars die?

As we all know, the stars we see in the night sky might already be dead. I was wondering though, when was this fact or conclusion commonly established? Today, most people (let's assume with an above ...
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198 views

How do people work out the trajectories of planets and stars just by looking at them?

I've been thinking about how astronomers can look at bright dots in the sky and deduce a whole bunch of things from their movements. I'm particularly interested in how people like Kepler and Galileo, ...
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62 views

How would Einstein's later years have been different with modern computers? [closed]

This is a historical question partly, and maybe too broad for this site, but would require some familiarity with modern physics research practice so hopefully appropriate here. Einstein's later ...
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132 views

Complex Versus Real Wave Velocities in Quantum Mechanics

There's a fantastic quote in Schrodinger's second 1926 paper1 that apparently provides some motivation for the discrete energy levels (I think) that I'm having trouble interpreting: I would not ...
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146 views

Why is it easier to measure the specific charge of an electron over the charge?

The electron was discovered in 1897 and the $e/m$ ratio was measured at that time ,but the charge $e$ itself was measured in 1911. Why was it not possible to measure it earlier?
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Questions about gravitational and inertial mass [duplicate]

What differences between gravitational mass and inertial mass? I cannot tell the differences between them. In history, which concept was put forward firstly? Are there some experiments to prove ...
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113 views

Tycho's stellar parallax measurements

How, exactly, did Tycho Brahe do his measurements of (no) stellar parallax? All the descriptions of parallax that I have been able to find seem to talk about the change in position of a nearby star ...
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How do people historically have come to use the Yang-Mills theory in physics?

There are many books, in which Yang-Mills theory is introduced "just like that". But I didn't find some book with set of historical arguments, which had led people to using it in quantum field theory. ...
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108 views

Developement of modern condensed matter physics [closed]

Do you know any resources describing historical aspects of developments of modern condensed matter physics (many body physics etc)? Thanks.
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572 views

Accidental, unplanned breakthroughs in physics [closed]

There is possibly some idioms or saying like this, ``If you try too hard for something, you will never get it. If you do not aim for something, it may fall on you accidentally, not as you originally ...
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162 views

Why was the conversion factor of the metric unit bar chosen the way it was?

The unit bar for pressure is clearly a metric unit, but its order of magnitude is a bit strange. In the centimeter–gram–second system of units we have: ...
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On the theoretical aspects of the development of the first nuclear bombs

I've just read that 68 years ago Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima, which made me wonder about some rather historical facts about the development of the first nuclear bombs; they seem to be several ...
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89 views

Why nuclear tests move under ground since 1964?

According to this database: http://www.ga.gov.au/oracle/nuclear-explosion.jsp Since 1962, 99% of USA Nuclear tests was underground. Since 1964, 99% of Soviet Nuclear tests was underground. Is it ...
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106 views

If transported back to the 18th century could you solve the Longitude Problem without an accurate clock?

Seeing an interesting BBC article today at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23514521 about the Longitude Problem, I wondered if it could have been solved, in a way practical at the time ...
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302 views

Electromagnetic Momentum

My book says : The fact that electromagnetic radiation of energy carried momentum was known from classical theory and from the experiments of Nichols and Hull in 1903. This relation is also consistent ...
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110 views

What cause scientists to study Black Body Radiation?

After spending hours understanding what exactly Black Body radiation and Ultraviolet catastrophe is, I cannot help myself asking what was the reason that make scientists such as Wilhelm Wien and Max ...
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207 views

Who formulated the idea of mass?

This may sound like a dumb question, but googling didn't seem to help. Mostly because I'm having a hard time formulating the question, and anything with "mass" seems to direct me to "Mass Effect". I ...
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Why were the fathers of quantum mechanics so sure radioactive decay was indeterministic?

The classic example of an indeterministic system is a radioactive isotope, e.g. the one that kills Schrödinger's cat. I get there are arguments against hidden variables in quantum mechanics, but how ...
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Biggest experimental validations of postulates of Quantum Mechanics

What are some experimental results that validate postulates of Quantum mechanics completely beyond any doubt ? Since there are alternate theories being used by various physicists to describe the same ...
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231 views

How many stars did people think there were in the 11th century (or thereabouts)?

I hope this isn't too off-topic. Someone showed me a reference to a French, 11th century biblical commentator who implied that there were over 600,000 stars. This got me thinking, how many stars did ...
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101 views

Since when the term 'mass' is being used in physics?

I was wondering who used the term 'mass' in physics and in what context? The Online Etymology Dictionary says it is in use since 1704. According to the Wiki article the year is contemporary to the ...
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Who (and Why) started the “electrons are negative, protons are positive” convention? [duplicate]

For some reason everyone labels electrons using a minus sign and protons using a positive sign, even though the opposite seems more intuitive: Who started the convention that electrons should be ...
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Examples of “pseudo quantum effects” in history of physics

Are there any examples in the history of physics where a phenomenon was considered by the physics community to be not explainable by classical physics and needed a quantum explanation whereas some ...
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146 views

Where did the concept of energy come from?

Energy seems to me to be a very abstract thing, and while it clearly works out very nicely, I don't understand how anyone would have thought to come up with it. Where does the concept of energy find ...
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135 views

History of Newtons law of gravitation

I have some questions about the history of Newtons law of universal gravitation. Did Newton discover his three laws of motion before he discovered the universal law of gravitation? I know two ...
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268 views

Discovery of $E=hf$?

How was the equation $E=hf$ discovered? Was the proportional expression between energy and frequency of light $E\propto f$ discovered only by experiment? Or is there some logical(theoretical) senses ...
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Origin of Ladder Operator methods

Ladder operators are found in various contexts (such as calculating the spectra of the harmonic oscillator and angular momentum) in almost all introductory Quantum Mechanics textbooks. And every book ...
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Historical aspect of wave theory of light

Huygens thought light as a wave. Wave is a propagation of physical disturbance. We now know that light is electromagnetic field. Electric and magnetic field fluctuates here. What Huygens really ...
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566 views

Why metric system uses kilogram as a basic SI unit?

SI system uses all (that I know) measurement basic units as 1 (single) instance: meter, second, ampere, etc, except the KILOgram. It already defined with 1000 multiplier (kilo). It prevents from ...
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123 views

Maxwell's Equations-Relativity

How did Maxwell develop the magnetic field without relativity? Was it purely experimental? I don't see how else he would have developed any understanding for the magnetic field.
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Topological band theory [closed]

Why topological insulators were discovered so late? While the band theory was known long time ago! I mean why the topological properties of electronic bands were not noticed in the past?
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104 views

recommendation for a physics history/non-fiction book [closed]

I know that there are a lot theses being published on lives of physicists. Is there a history/non-fiction book that tracks the development of a problem chronologically? Like pieces of a puzzle. I ...
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180 views

Michelson–Morley @ Home

The Michelson-Morley experiment seems to have taken many years, resources and a nervous breakdown to complete. Is it possible to recreate a variation of this experiment at home for say, under $1000, ...
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209 views

Earliest example of naturalness/fine-tuning arguments

The notion of naturalness is important in particle physics, especially supersymmetry. I was a little surprised, then, that the idea, or at least the name, is apparently only ~30 years old ('t Hooft, ...
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248 views

How did Newton find out force has something to do with acceleration?

Its about Newton's second law of motion, $$F=ma.$$ It says the acceleration of an object is directly proportional to the net force and is inversely proportional to the object's mass. Yes I can ...
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323 views

English translation of Helmholtz' paper: “On the Physical Significance of the Principle of Least Action”

I am asking about an English translation of a Helmholtz paper: Ueber die physikalische Bedeutung des Princips der kleinsten Wirkung. Journal für die reine und angewandte Mathematik (Crelle's ...
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Why there is no “Edison” unit in physics? [closed]

In the popular culture the XIX-XX century competition between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla is well-known. The example could be the Prestige movie, where there are some "Edison's agents" who sabotage ...
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47 views

Why did Otto Hahn use neutrons to generate transuranium?

In physics textbooks with chapters about nuclear fission there is often a historical introduction about Otto Hahn. That he tried to generate transuranium but discovered the nuclear fission. If you ...
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284 views

Why a day is divided by 12/24 hours? Why the number 12?

Why a day is divided by 12/24 hours? Why the number 12? Why not using 10 or 6 or 14, 16? Who invented this? Any physical reasons behind this?
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151 views

Difference between nautical and terrestrial miles

Does someone know the historical reason behind the difference in physical units between nautical and terrestrial miles?
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3k views

Electric field of a negative charge

How was it discovered that the electric field of a negative charge points towards the charge itself? Is it true? (Courtesy of wikipedia)
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326 views

Results of Statistical Mechanics first obtained by formal mathematical methods

I have a question that seems natural in Physics and Mathematics mainly in Statistical Mechanics of Equilibrium. Results that are proven by formal mathematical methods that were already seem intuitive ...
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2k views

Did Hilbert publish general relativity field equation before Einstein?

Did Hilbert publish general relativity field equation before Einstein?
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65 views

What was the first ionization radiation?

While trying to make somewhat of a timeline of the history of ionizatig radiation, i am wondering about the following questions: The first photoelectrical effect was found 1839 by Alexandre ...