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

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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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245 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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60 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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1answer
170 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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Why is the partition function called ''partition function''?

The partition function plays a central role in statistical mechanics. But why is it called ''partition function''?
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511 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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1answer
117 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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989 views

How do formulas get figured out?

Many of the formulas I learn in school are derived from more basic formulas — as long you your math is right and assuming the more basic formulas you used are correct, you are bound to get to a ...
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3answers
267 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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147 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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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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2answers
183 views

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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766 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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285 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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1answer
255 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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255 views

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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2answers
147 views

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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1answer
176 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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1answer
313 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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3answers
813 views

Historical background of wave function collapse

I wonder what were the main experiments that led people to develop the concept of wave function collapse? (I think I am correct in including the Born Rule within the general umbrella of the collapse ...
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1answer
128 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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1answer
120 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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1answer
166 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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1answer
2k views

What happened to David John Candlin?

This is an ultra-soft question about relatively recent history. While reading some of Mandelstam's papers, I noticed that he cites David John Candlin consistenly whenever he does anything with ...
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2answers
327 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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2answers
507 views

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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Lev Landau's “Theoretical Minimum”

The great russian physicist Lev Landau developed a famous entry exam to test his students. This "Theoretical Minimum" contained everything he considered elementary for a young theoretical physicist. ...
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292 views

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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2answers
493 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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127 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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1answer
2k views

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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1answer
183 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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1answer
207 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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2answers
58 views

Did physical models of galaxies come before they were actually observed?

Black holes were first predicted by astrophysics, then observed. Was the existence of galaxies first predicted by astrophysics, or first observed by astronomers?
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401 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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113 views

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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6answers
7k views

Who discovered momentum?

I read some text about momentum in Wikipedia, but I didn't find any information who discovered momentum. Is the momentum a philosophic principle?
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148 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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1answer
183 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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1answer
2k views

Historic derivation of Wien's law

Every book I've read, including a lot of websites, Wikipedia, etc, say that Wien derived this: $$\rho_\nu(T)=\rho(\nu,T)=\nu^3f\left(\frac{\nu}{T}\right)$$ Being $\rho_v(T)$ the spectral enegy ...
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368 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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1answer
279 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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366 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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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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1answer
56 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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4answers
381 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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1answer
279 views

Difference between nautical and terrestrial miles

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