49
votes
6answers
3k views

Is there a way for an astronaut to rotate?

We know that if an imaginary astronaut is in the intergalactic (no external forces) and has an initial velocity zero, then he has is no way to change the position of his center of mass. The law of ...
49
votes
11answers
8k views

Quantum Field Theory from a mathematical point of view

I'm a student of mathematics with not much background in physics. I'm interested in learning Quantum field theory from a mathematical point of view. Are there any good books or other reference ...
49
votes
8answers
11k views

Why does holding something up cost energy while no work is being done?

I read the definition of work as $$W ~=~ \vec{F} \cdot \vec{d}$$ $$\text{ Work = (Force) $\cdot$ (Distance)}.$$ If a book is there on the table, no work is done as no distance is covered. If I ...
49
votes
8answers
19k views

Why don't electrons crash into the nuclei they “orbit”?

I'm having trouble understanding the simple "planetary" model of the atom that I'm being taught in my basic chemistry course. In particular, I can't see how a negatively charged electron can stay ...
49
votes
6answers
9k views

Why are most metals gray/silver?

Why do most metals (iron, tin, aluminum, lead, zinc, tungsten, nickel, etc.) appear silver or gray in color? (What atomic characteristics determine the color?) What makes copper and gold have ...
48
votes
5answers
10k views

How long can you survive 1 million degrees?

I asked my Dad this once when I was about 14, and he said that no matter how short the amount of time you were exposed to such a great temperature, you would surely die. The conversation went ...
48
votes
3answers
4k views

How small does sand have to be to get wet?

I think of sand as a lot of very small rocks. Suppose I have a pile of rocks, each about 1cm in size, and the pile is a meter tall. If I pour a bucket of water on the rocks, most of the water will ...
48
votes
5answers
22k views

Is the universe fundamentally deterministic?

I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask this question. I realise that this maybe a borderline philosophical question at this point in time, therefore feel free to close this question if you ...
48
votes
12answers
11k views

How long a straw could Superman use?

To suck water through a straw, you create a partial vacuum in your lungs. Water rises through the straw until the pressure in the straw at the water level equals atmospheric pressure. This ...
48
votes
2answers
5k views

Why did Feynman's thesis almost work?

A bit of background helps frame this question. The question itself is in the last sentence. For his PhD thesis, Richard Feynman and his thesis adviser John Archibald Wheeler devised an astonishingly ...
47
votes
4answers
5k views

Why does a cup with 100 g water float when placed on another cup with 50 g of water?

Imagine we have cup A with 50 g of water and cup B (smaller in width than A) with 100 g of water. Now put cup B into cup A. If the width of both cups are of comparable size then the cup with ...
47
votes
5answers
3k views

What is information?

We're all familiar with basic tenets such as "information cannot be transmitted faster than light" and ideas such as information conservation in scenarios like Hawking radiation (and in general, ...
47
votes
1answer
1k views

What is the upper-limit on intrinsic heating due to dark matter?

Cold dark matter is thought to fill our galactic neighborhood with a density $\rho$ of about 0.3 GeV/cm${}^3$ and with a velocity $v$ of roughly 200 to 300 km/s. (The velocity dispersion is much ...
46
votes
1answer
4k views

Is it possible to “see” atoms?

As per my knowledge, atoms are small beyond our imaginations. But there is an image on Wikipedia that shows silicon atoms observed at the surface of silicon carbide crystals. The image: How can we ...
46
votes
10answers
6k views

Can Maxwell's equations be derived from Coulomb's Law and Special Relativity?

As an exercise I sat down and derived the magnetic field produced by moving charges for a few contrived situations. I started out with Coulomb's Law and Special Relativity. For example, I derived the ...
46
votes
7answers
16k views

What Is Energy? Where did it come from?

The simplistic undergrad explanation aside. I've never really understood what energy really is. I've been told that it's something when converted from one kind of something to another kind does some ...
46
votes
12answers
15k views

What happens to the energy when waves perfectly cancel each other?

What happens to the energy when waves perfectly cancel each other (destructive interference)? It appears that the energy "disappear" but the law of conservation of energy states that it can't be ...
38
votes
5answers
3k views

Why is the harmonic oscillator so important?

I've been wondering what makes the harmonic oscillator such an important model. What I came up with: It is a (relatively) simple system, making it a perfect example for physics students to learn ...
37
votes
4answers
2k views

Is there a Lagrangian formulation of statistical mechanics?

In statistical mechanics, we usually think in terms of the Hamiltonian formalism. At a particular time $t$, the system is in a particular state, where "state" means the generalised coordinates and ...
29
votes
5answers
2k views

Does Heisenberg's uncertainty under time evolution always grow?

Recently there have been some interesting questions on standard QM and especially on uncertainty principle and I enjoyed reviewing these basic concepts. And I came to realize I have an interesting ...
27
votes
5answers
942 views

What are some critiques of Jaynes' approach to statistical mechanics?

Suggested here: What are the justifying foundations of statistical mechanics without appealing to the ergodic hypothesis? I was wondering about good critiques of Jaynes' approach to statistical ...
24
votes
9answers
7k views

Why does wavelength affect diffraction?

I have seen many questions of this type but I could nowhere find the answer to "why". I know this is a phenomenon which has been seen and discovered and we know it happens and how it happens. But my ...
21
votes
2answers
1k views

Layman's explanation and understanding of Einstein's field equations

Most of us have heard of Einstein's amazing equations which describe the universe around us, yet only some of us understand what the equations are actually saying. What are these equations ...
20
votes
4answers
3k views

Will 1 gram of matter moving at relativistic speeds completely annihilate a larger quantity of stationary antimatter?

This is a question about the relativistic mass concept which I am having trouble understanding, mainly because of the scenario below. Simple scenario: Suppose 1 gram of matter is accelerated to 99% ...
19
votes
8answers
2k views

Is it foolish to distinguish between covariant and contravariant vectors?

A vector space is a set whose elements satisfy certain axioms. Now there are physical entities that satisfy these properties, which may not be arrows. A co-ordinate transformation is linear map from a ...
18
votes
4answers
1k views

Validity of naively computing the de Broglie wavelength of a macroscopic object

Many introductory quantum mechanics textbooks include simple exercises on computing the de Broglie wavelength of macroscopic objects, often contrasting the results with that of a proton, etc. For ...
18
votes
2answers
2k views

How can Quasars emit anything if they're black holes?

We've heard it many times, nothing can escape the gravity of a black hole, even light once it's past the event horizon. If this is true, how can a black hole emit anything? Quasars are massive black ...
17
votes
2answers
4k views

Is the “How to break the speed of light” minute physics video wrong?

I am referring to this video, on YouTube, by minutephysics, which has quite a lot of views. In the video it states that if you flick your wrist while pointing a laser that reaches the moon, that the ...
16
votes
11answers
31k views

How do you start learning physics by yourself? [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 ...
16
votes
5answers
4k views

A pedestrian explanation of conformal blocks

I would be very happy if someone could take a stab at conveying what conformal blocks are and how they are used in conformal field theory (CFT). I'm finally getting the glimmerings of understanding ...
16
votes
5answers
2k views

Paradox in special relativity

Yesterday we started relativity on our physics class, and my professor taught us a few concepts. We did some examples on how things changed by looking them from different reference systems, and a ...
16
votes
1answer
334 views
+50

Why do we need complex representations in Grand Unified Theories?

EDIT4: I think I was now able to track down where this dogma originally came from. Howard Georgi wrote in TOWARDS A GRAND UNIFIED THEORY OF FLAVOR There is a deeper reason to require ...
15
votes
11answers
42k views

Why does the (relativistic) mass of an object increase when its speed approaches that of light?

I'm reading Nano: The Essentials by T. Pradeep and I came upon this statement in the section explaining the basics of scanning electron microscopy. However, the equation breaks down when the ...
15
votes
4answers
2k views

What is the physical meaning of a “complete” Hilbert space in QM?

What does the word "complete" means from the physical point of view? I do not understand what it physically means to say that a Hilbert space is a complete vector space.
15
votes
4answers
1k views

Ignorance in statistical mechanics

Consider this penny on my desc. It is a particular piece of metal, well described by statistical mechanics, which assigns to it a state, namely the density matrix $\rho_0=\frac{1}{Z}e^{-\beta H}$ ...
15
votes
1answer
805 views

How can dark matter collapse without collisions or radiation?

I understand that dark matter does not collapse into dense objects like stars apparently because it is non-interacting or radiating and thus cannot lose energy as it collapses. However why then does ...
14
votes
1answer
268 views

Explicit supersymmetry breaking fermion mass terms

I hope you can clear up my following confusions. In Girardello's and Grisaru's paper (Nuclear Physics B, 194, 65 (1982)) where they analysed the most general soft explicit supersymmetry breaking ...
12
votes
2answers
2k views

Why are there chiral edge states in the quantum hall effect?

The most popular explanation for the existence of chiral edge states is probably the following: in a magnetic field, electrons move in cyclotron orbits, and such such cyclotron orbits ensure electrons ...
12
votes
2answers
860 views

The Role of Active and Passive Diffeomorphism Invariance in GR

I'd like some clarification regarding the roles of active and passive diffeomorphism invariance in GR between these possibly conflicting sources. 1) Wald writes, after explaining that passive ...
11
votes
6answers
4k views

How is quantum superposition different from mixed state?

According to Wikipedia, if a system has $50\%$ chance to be in state $\left|\psi_1\right>$ and $50\%$ to be in state $\left|\psi_2\right>$, then this is a mixed state. Now consider state ...
11
votes
2answers
492 views

Are Thomas Breuer's subjective decoherence and Scott Aaronson's freebits with Knightian freedom the same things in essence?

In his remarkable works (1,2 and their recent development 3) Thomas Breuer proves by diagonalization the phenomenon that the observer cannot distinguish all phase space states of a system where he is ...
10
votes
4answers
10k views

Why does a ball bounce lower?

If a ball hits the floor after an acceleration then why does it bounces lower? I mean the Energy is passed to the floor then why does the floor give back less Energy?
10
votes
1answer
1k views

Why does Planck's constant appear in classical statistical mechanics [duplicate]

Why does Planck's constant appear in classical statistical mechanics. I gather a constant appears in because we would like to count classical states in phase space and so therefore we have to ...
10
votes
3answers
3k views

Origin of elements heavier than Iron (Fe)

In all the discussions about how the heavy elements in the universe are forged in the guts of stars and especially during a stars death, I usually hear that once the star begins fusing lighter atoms ...
10
votes
1answer
288 views

What's a lepto-diquark?

This questions refers to Slansky's Group theory for unified model building, page 106 of chapter 7. He assigns the weight $(1)(01)$, which is stepwise projected from $E_6$ to $SU(2)\times SU(3)$, to a ...
10
votes
2answers
1k views

Do traversable wormholes exist as solutions to string theory?

There has been some heated debate as to whether the laws of physics allow for traversable wormholes. Some physicists claim we require exotic matter to construct wormholes, but then others counter the ...
10
votes
3answers
274 views

The $U(1)$ charge of a representation

My question is about the reduction of a representation of a group $SU(5)$ to irreps of the subgroup $SU(3)\times SU(2) \times U(1)$. For example the weights of the 10 dimensional representation of ...
9
votes
4answers
308 views

Physics of how the cochlea isolates frequencies along its length?

Can anyone explain the separation of frequencies along the basilar membrane of the cochlea please? (equations would be nice) I understand it being related to the resistance caused by fluid in the ...
9
votes
1answer
970 views

What's the relation between perturbative and nonperturbative QFT?

In case of any miscommunication let me describe my understanding of the meaning of "perturbative" and "non-perturbative", and correct me if something is wrong: In a perturbatively defined QFT the ...
8
votes
2answers
3k views

How do superconducting materials float in magnetic field?

The movie Avatar got me interested in the subject, but so far I only found sophisticated articles loaded with unfamiliar words. Is there a simple way to explain how magnetic field affects ...

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