Questions that ask about some aspect of physics research or study which doesn't involve the actual physics. In general, soft questions can be answered without using physical reasoning.

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54
votes
2answers
8k views

Reading the Feynman lectures in 2012

The Feynman lectures are universally admired, it seems, but also a half-century old. Taking them as a source for self-study, what compensation for their age, if any, should today's reader undertake? ...
39
votes
3answers
2k views
36
votes
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 ...
31
votes
24answers
2k views

Your favorite Physics/Astrophysics blogs? [closed]

What are the Physics/Astrophysics blogs you regularly read? I'm looking to beef up my RSS feeds to catch up with during my long commutes. I'd like to discover lesser-known gems (e.g. not well known ...
30
votes
10answers
1k views

Readable books on advanced topics [closed]

I realise that there are already a few questions looking for general book recommendations, but the motivation and type of book I'm looking for here is a little different, so I hope you can indulge me. ...
28
votes
6answers
2k views

How to write a paper in physics

I really like to do research in physics and like to calculate to see what happen. However, I really find it hard to write a paper, to explain the results I obtained and to put them in order. One of ...
25
votes
6answers
2k views

Canonical everyday-life example of a technology that could not work without humans mastering QM in analogy to the application of GR in GPS?

The GPS is a very handy example in explaining to a broad audience why it is useful for humanity to know the laws of general relativity. It nicely bridges the abstract theory with daily life ...
25
votes
13answers
5k views

Comprehensive book on group theory for physicists?

I am looking for a good source on group theory aimed at physicists. I'd prefer one with a good general introduction to group theory, not just focusing on Lie groups or crystal groups but one that ...
22
votes
6answers
3k views

Are there two theories that are mathematically identical but ontologically different?

I have no background in physics but there is a question that has been bothering me, so I'm asking you. Are there at least 2 physical theories that are : Mathematically identical, which means that ...
22
votes
9answers
5k views

How should a physics student study mathematics? [closed]

Note: I will expand this question with more specific points when I have my own internet connection and more time (we're moving in, so I'm at a friend's house). This question is broad, involved, and ...
22
votes
3answers
1k views

How to determine what size telescope to buy

A couple of years ago my son showed an interest in astronomy and we bought a 6" reflector telescope. We use it pretty regularly and have enjoyed it immensely. Lately we've both been wishing we had ...
21
votes
4answers
2k views

Which is more fundamental, Fields or Particles?

I hope that I am using appropriate terminology. My confusion about quantum theory (beyond my obvious unfamiliarity with its terminology) is basically twofold: I lack an adequate understanding of ...
21
votes
14answers
3k views

Learning physics online?

I'm thinking of following some kind of education in physics online. I have a master degree in Computer Science and have reasonable good knowledge in physics. I would like a program of 1-2 years and ...
20
votes
8answers
3k views

Starting a physics Ph.D. at 60?

Decades ago I was in a physics Ph.D. program, made a hash of things, and quite rightly was dropped from the program. Since then I've had a very satisfying career as a computer programmer, and picked ...
20
votes
2answers
294 views

Post-doc advice for a low publication grad student

As a grad student, I have a single publication, a conference proceeding, to my name. So, my question is what do I need to do to obtain a post-doc position? Obviously, my references are going to be ...
19
votes
8answers
2k views

Why is there a size limitation on animals?

Why is there a size limitation on human/animal growth? Assuming the technology exists for man to grow to 200 feet high, it's pretty much a given that the stress on the skeletal structure and joints ...
19
votes
11answers
3k views

Are there still 'everyday' phenomena unexplained by Physics? [closed]

There are two very famous quotes from German Nobel Laureate Albert Abraham Michelson that are remembered mainly for being extremely wrong (especially since he said them just before two major ...
18
votes
8answers
11k views

What are the prerequisites to studying general relativity? [closed]

This question recently appeared on Slashdot: Slashdot posts a fair number of physics stories. Many of us, myself included, don't have the background to understand them. So I'd like to ask the ...
17
votes
5answers
2k views

What do theoretical physicists need from computer scientists?

I recently co-authored a paper (not online yet unfortunately) with some chemists that essentially provided answers to the question, "What do chemists need from computer scientists?" This included the ...
17
votes
1answer
698 views

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''?
16
votes
7answers
4k views

How to learn physics effectively and efficiently [closed]

How do you effectively study physics? How does one read a physics book instead or just staring at it for hours? (Apologies in advance if the question is ill-posed or too subjective in its current ...
16
votes
9answers
3k views

Books that develop interest & critical thinking among high school students

I heard about Yakov Perelman and his books. I just finished reading his two volumes of Physics for Entertainment. What a delightful read! What a splendid author. This is the exact book I've been ...
15
votes
6answers
2k views

Why should any physicist know, to some degree, experimental physics?

I've been trying to design a list with reasons why a proper theoretical physicist should understand the methods and the difficulty of doing experimental physics. So far I've only thought of two ...
15
votes
4answers
1k views

What are the best open-access journals in physics?

I would like to support open-access journals by choosing to publish in journals which allow readers free online access. Ideally I would also like to retain copyright instead of signing it over to ...
15
votes
6answers
2k views

Where should a physicist go to learn chemistry?

I took an introductory chemistry course long ago, but the rules seemed arbitrary, and I've forgotten most of what I learned. Now that I have an undergraduate education in physics, I should be able to ...
14
votes
5answers
425 views

What does periodicity of $e^{-iHt/\hbar}$ mean in physical terms?

The unitary time evolution operator $U(t)=e^{-iHt/\hbar}$ has some distinct flavour of periodicity to it because of $e^{x+2\pi i}=e^x$. Is this periodicity reflected in any way in physical systems? ...
14
votes
3answers
1k views

Is there a physics Puzzles site like Project Euler?

I am looking for a site that publishing riddles and problems such as Project Euler publishes problems in computer science. Is there any similar site that is hardcore in the area of physics? This ...
13
votes
7answers
1k views

Is it possible to work on physics independently outside academia?

The traditional physics career is an academic job at some university, with the eventual goal of becoming a tenured professor. Is it possible for a mostly self-educated outsider working outside ...
13
votes
6answers
2k views

Why do physicists believe that there exist magnetic monopoles?

One thing I've heard stated many times is that "most" or "many" physicists believe that, despite the fact that they have not been observed, there are such things as magnetic monopoles. However, I've ...
13
votes
4answers
3k views

What does Peter Parkers formula represent?

Okay, so the trailer for the new Spider Man movie is out and appearently our friendly physicist from the neightborhood came up with something. However I can't find out what this is. ...
13
votes
1answer
1k views

What came first, Rice Crispy or “Snap,” “Crackle,” and “Pop”? [closed]

The fourth, fifth, and sixth derivatives of position are called "Snap" "Crackle" and "Pop". What came first, the rice crispy characters, or the physics units?
12
votes
11answers
19k views

How do you start self-learning physics [closed]

I think this question has its place here because I am sure some of you are "self-taught experts" and can guide me a little through this process. Considering that : I don't have any physics scholar ...
12
votes
10answers
3k views

Theoretical Physics - How to?

Although I doubt somewhat whether this question is really appropriate for this site, I hope it gets answered anyways. I guess, what I'm wondering is: How does one get to work as a theoretical ...
12
votes
3answers
485 views

Is classical electromagnetism a dead research field?

Is classical electromagnetism a dead research field? Are there any phenomena within classical electromagnetism that we have no explanation for?
12
votes
3answers
282 views

Can a web community write papers? [closed]

the internet has changed science drastically. Not only in terms of distributing knowledge e.g. via online encyclopedias as wikipedia and freely available sources of publications as arXiv but also as a ...
12
votes
5answers
616 views

Online physics collaboration tools

I.e. online discussion with your friends. A forum is probably too overkill in this case. Yet so far nothing can beat direct communication. Important feature: the ability to archive discussions. We ...
12
votes
2answers
283 views

Searching books and papers with equations

Sometimes I may come up with an equation in mind, so I want to search for the related material. It may be the case that I learn it before but forget the name, or, there is no name for the equation ...
12
votes
3answers
1k views

Why are they called “cyclic” coordinates?

In Lagrangian formalism, when $\frac{\partial L}{\partial q} = 0$, the coordinate $q$ is called cyclic and a corresponding conserved quantity exists. But why is it called cyclic?
12
votes
4answers
842 views

What does it mean to say that the electron is a near-perfect sphere?

It's announced that researchers at Imperial College London has found that the electron is almost a perfect sphere. The popular articles all have a nice photo of a billiard ball, etc. It is reported ...
12
votes
2answers
2k views

Are we living in a false vacuum? Is there any way to tell?

I was thinking of the noted 1980 paper by Sidney Coleman and Frank de Luccia--"Gravitational effects of and on vacuum decay"-- about metastable vacuum states that could tunnel to a lower energy "true ...
12
votes
11answers
788 views

What objective criteria distinguish between valid science, fringe science and pseudoscience in physics?

Plenty of research activity in physics have been vigorously opposed by their opponents as pseudoscience or fringe science, while other research are mainstream. It is possible some topic is ...
11
votes
17answers
3k views

Can pure maths create new theories in physics or does the “idea” ALWAYS come before the math?

I am in a debate with a friend about the value of string theory in physics. He is concerned that we are wasting valuable intellectual and financial resources on a path that is fanciful and can't ever ...
11
votes
7answers
1k views

Is physics rigorous in the mathematical sense?

I am a student studying Mathematics with no prior knowledge of Physics whatsoever except for very simple equations. I would like to ask, due to my experience with Mathematics: Is there a set of ...
11
votes
6answers
673 views

What is an effective way to search for post-doc positions in physics?

I am a graduate student in experimental physics, currently writing up my dissertation and beginning to apply to post-doc positions. While it is very easy to find out about open positions in my ...
11
votes
2answers
97 views

Who should I contact if I see an unknown object in the sky?

Who should I contact if I see an unknown object in the sky? Should I contact the nearest observatory? Or is there some official place run by, say, NASA or ESA that take in observations in their ...
11
votes
7answers
6k views

What does it take to understand Maxwell's equations?

Assume I want to learn math and physics enough to reach a level where I understand Maxwell's equations (The terms and reasoning in the equations I.e. why they "work"). What would I have to learn in ...
11
votes
3answers
671 views

Mathematical Physics Book Recommendation [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Best books for mathematical background? I want to learn contemporary mathematical physics, so that, for example, I can read Witten's latest paper without checking other ...
10
votes
5answers
3k views

Difference between theoretical physics and mathematical physics?

I'm a huge fan of mathematical physics and I know what the formal definitions of those two areas are, I've seen them. But I still get completely baffled when someone asks me to explain it simply. The ...
10
votes
9answers
1k views

Why beauty is a good guide in physics? [closed]

Dirac once said that he was mainly guided by mathematical beauty more than anything else in his discovery of the famous Dirac equation. Most of the deepest equations of physics are also the most ...
10
votes
5answers
1k views

Do Category Theory and/or Quantum Logic add value in physics?

I know they have their adherents, but do more or less esoteric branches of mathematics such as Category Theory and/or Quantum Logic provide powerful tools for new theory development or are they just ...