30
votes
6answers
5k views

Why can't you hear music well over a telephone line?

Why can't you hear music well well over a telephone line? I was asked this question in an interview for a university study placement and I unfortunately had no idea. I was given the hint that the ...
30
votes
8answers
6k views

Why does the speed of light have no uncertainty?

I could understand that the definition of a second wouldn't have an uncertainty when related to the transition of the Cs atom, so it doesn't have an error because it's an absolute reference and we ...
30
votes
8answers
2k views

What's the point of Hamiltonian mechanics?

I've just finished a Classical Mechanics course, and looking back on it some things are not quite clear. In the first half we covered the Lagrangian formalism, which I thought was pretty cool. I ...
30
votes
4answers
4k views

Are atoms unique?

Do atoms have any uniquely identifying characteristic besides their history? For example, if we had detailed information about a specific carbon atom from one of Planck's fingerprints, and could ...
30
votes
4answers
2k views

Trace of a commutator is zero - but what about the commutator of $x$ and $p$?

Operators can be cyclically interchanged inside a trace: $${\rm Tr} (AB)~=~{\rm Tr} (BA).$$ This means the trace of a commutator of any two operators is zero: $${\rm Tr} ([A,B])~=~0.$$ But what about ...
30
votes
5answers
2k views

Path integral vs. measure on infinite dimensional space

Coming from a mathematical background, I'm trying to get a handle on the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics. According to Feynman, if you want to figure out the probability amplitude for ...
30
votes
5answers
3k views

Why is it hard to solve the Ising-model in 3D?

The Ising model is a well-known and well-studied model of magnetism. Ising solved the model in one dimension in 1925. In 1944, Onsager obtained the exact free energy of the two-dimensional (2D) model ...
30
votes
0answers
828 views

On the Coulomb branch of N=2 supersymmetric gauge theory

The chiral ring of the Coulomb branch of a 4D $\mathcal N=2$ supersymmetric gauge theory is given by the Casimirs of the vector multiplet scalars, and they don't have non-trivial relations; the ...
29
votes
8answers
19k views

Will a hole cut into a metal disk expand or shrink when the disc is heated?

Suppose you take a metal disc and cut a small, circular hole in the center. When you heat the whole thing, will the hole's diameter increase or decrease? and why?
29
votes
8answers
3k views

Does Gödel preclude a workable ToE?

Gödel's incompleteness theorem prevents a universal axiomatic system for math. Is there any reason to believe that it also prevents a theory of everything for physics? Edit: I haven't before seen ...
29
votes
8answers
8k views

Would it matter if the Earth rotated clockwise?

In the Futurama episode "That Darn Katz!" they save the world by rotating the Earth backwards saying it shouldn't matter (which direction Earth rotates). If Earth rotated clockwise and remained in ...
29
votes
3answers
3k views

Speed of sound at temperatures below 0 °C

How can the speed of sound be calculated for temperatures below 0 °C (down to -40 °C)? Does the calculation $v=331\ \frac{m}{s} + 0.6 \frac{m}{s°C} \times T$ still hold (where T's unit is ...
29
votes
2answers
847 views

What forces are at work causing sand to migrate to the centre of a spinning bucket of water? [duplicate]

A bucket is filled with water and a handful of sand. The water is then spun. Why and what forces are in play which cause the sand particles to congregate in the centre of the bucket?
29
votes
3answers
2k views

Why does a supernova explode

This is really bugging me. When you look up some educational text about stars life, this is what you find out: Gravity creates the temperature and pressure to start fusion reactions. The fusion ...
29
votes
7answers
7k views

Is a hard drive heavier when it is full?

Browsing Quora, I saw the following question with contradicting answers. For the highest voted answer: The bits are represented by certain orientations of magnetic fields which shouldn't have ...
29
votes
2answers
1k views

The Impossibility ( or Possibility) of Solving $N$-Body Problem

One can obtain the solution to a $2$-Body problem analytically. However, I understand that obtaining a general solution to a $N$-body problem is impossible. Is there a proof somewhere that shows this ...
29
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. ...
29
votes
2answers
4k views

Before a once-warm lake starts to freeze, must its temperature be 4°C throughout at some point?

This is a problem I just started puzzling over, and I felt this would be a good forum to check my reasoning. So here are the relevant observations followed by my question: Water achieves its maximum ...
29
votes
10answers
2k views

Mechanics around a rail tank wagon

Some time ago I came across a problem which might be of interest to the physics.se, I think. The problem sounds like a homework problem, but I think it is not trivial (i am still thinking about it): ...
28
votes
16answers
2k views

Why does one experience a short pull in the wrong direction when a vehicle stops?

When you're in a train and it slows down, you experience the push forward from the deceleration which is no surprise since the force one experiences results from good old $F=m a$. However, the moment ...
28
votes
9answers
2k views

Where does the extra force generated by a lever come from?

Given an object being pulled down to earth by a force of 1000 lb: If a machine were to lift it off the ground for me, and I grabbed on to the rope before it was released, there is no way in the world ...
28
votes
5answers
9k views

With Newton's third law, why are things capable of moving?

I've got a rather humiliating question considering newton's third law "If an object A exterts a force on object B, then object B exerts an equal but opposite force on object A" -> $F_1=-F_2$ ...
28
votes
4answers
4k views

Why can't we feel the Earth turning?

The Earth turns with a very high velocity, around its own axis and around the Sun. So why can't we feel that it's turning, but we can still feel earthquake.
28
votes
10answers
906 views

Examples of number theory showing up in physics

My question is very simple: Are there any interesting examples of number theory showing up unexpectedly in physics? This probably sounds like rather strange question, or rather like one of the ...
28
votes
6answers
1k views

What keeps mass from turning into energy?

I understand the energy and mass can change back and forth according to Einstein. It is fluid; it can go from one to the other. So, what keeps mass from just turning into energy? Is there some force ...
28
votes
7answers
9k 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 ...
28
votes
6answers
1k views

Can I survive a free fall using a ramp and a rope?

Can I survive a free fall by carrying a very light and resistant ramp using a rope? Note: lets assume the ramp is a little bit heavier at the bottom and I am very skilled at making it always land ...
28
votes
3answers
1k views

Floating a ping pong ball in the air just using a pen!

Caution: Apparently this problem is harder than it seems! There is a well known phenomena, which I first learnt about when I was a 10 years old kid. You can levitate a ping pong(or whatever ...
28
votes
3answers
3k views

A No-Nonsense Introduction to Quantum Field Theory

I found Sean Carroll's "A No Nonsense Introduction to General Relativity" (about page here. pdf here), a 24-page overview of the topic, very helpful for beginning study. It all got me over the hump ...
27
votes
6answers
4k views

Why is jumping into water from high altitude fatal?

If I jump from an airplane straight positioned upright into the ocean, why is it the same as jumping straight on the ground? Water is a liquid as opposed to the ground, so I would expect that by ...
27
votes
9answers
16k views

How can a photon have no mass and still travel at the speed of light?

I've read a number of the helpful Q&As on photons that mention the mass/mass-less issue. Do I understand correctly that the idea of mass-less (a rest mass of 0) may be just a convention to make ...
27
votes
3answers
2k views

What is the fallacy in this infinite motion machine?

I realize this isn't possible, but I can't see why not, especially if you change the model a little bit so that the balls simply travel through a tube of water on the way up, rather than exactly ...
27
votes
14answers
2k views

Why quantum mechanics?

Imagine you're teaching a first course on quantum mechanics in which your students are well-versed in classical mechanics, but have never seen any quantum before. How would you motivate the subject ...
27
votes
4answers
2k views

Do two beams of light attract each other in general theory of relativity?

In general relativity, light is subject to gravitational pull. Does light generate gravitational pull, and do two beams of light attract each other?
27
votes
4answers
357 views

Telescopes to avoid as a beginner? [closed]

I've heard people talk about "department store scopes" or "trash scopes". How do I know what to avoid in a beginner scope? How can I know that I'm not getting something we will be more frustrated with ...
27
votes
7answers
1k views

Are these two quantum systems distinguishable?

Suppose Stanford Research Systems starts selling a two-level atom factory. Your grad student pushes a button, and bang, he gets a two level atom. Half the time the atom is produced in the ground ...
27
votes
2answers
821 views

Intuitively, why are bundles so important in Physics?

This question probably seems silly and I don't really know if it fits properly here, but the point is the following: I've seem the notion of bundles, fiber bundles, connections on bundles and so on ...
27
votes
8answers
2k views

Is a “third quantization” possible?

Classical mechanics: $t\mapsto \vec x(t)$, the world is described by particle trajectories $\vec x(t)$ or $x^\mu(\lambda)$, i.e. the Hilbert vector is the particle coordinate function $\vec x$ (or ...
27
votes
5answers
2k views

If photon energies are continuous and atomic energy levels are discrete, how can atoms absorb photons?

If photon energies are continuous and atomic energy levels are discrete, how can atoms absorb photons? The probability of a photon having just the right amount of energy for an atomic transition is ...
27
votes
3answers
12k views

Maximum theoretical data density

Our ability to store data on or in physical media continues to grow, with the maximum amount a data you can store in a given volume increasing exponentially from year to year. Storage devices continue ...
27
votes
8answers
4k views

Why doesn't the bike fall if going with a high speed?

Why does the bike fall when its speed is very low or close to zero and is balanced when going with a high speed?
27
votes
4answers
694 views

How exact is the analogy between statistical mechanics and quantum field theory?

Famously, the path integral of quantum field theory is related to the partition function of statistical mechanics via a Wick rotation and there is therefore a formal analogy between the two. I have a ...
26
votes
9answers
3k views

Rigor in quantum field theory

Quantum field theory is a broad subject and has the reputation of using methods which are mathematically desiring. For example working with and subtracting infinities or the use of path integrals, ...
26
votes
6answers
1k 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 ...
26
votes
14answers
4k views

Getting started general relativity

What are some good books, videos, websites for getting started with general relativity? Mathematically rigorous preferred!
26
votes
4answers
2k views

What's the real fundamental definition of energy?

Some physical quantities like position, velocity, momentum and force, have precise definition even on basic textbooks, however energy is a little confusing for me. My point here is: using our ...
26
votes
5answers
2k views

Is a proton collision (collisions like in the LHC) visible to the human eye?

I was curious if a proton collision is visible to the human eye. (This might sound like a really basic question and forgive me if it is. I am very inexperienced in Physics and just wanted an answer ...
26
votes
6answers
963 views

Are quantum effects significant in lens design?

Over on Photography, a question was asked as to why (camera) lenses are always cylindrical. Paraphrasing slightly, one of the answers and follow-up comments asserted that quantum effects are ...
26
votes
10answers
9k views

How did Newton discover his second law?

I've always assumed/been told that Newton's 2nd law is an empirical law — it must be discovered by experiment. If this is the case, what experiments did Newton do to discover this? Is it related to ...
26
votes
3answers
949 views

The Pioneer anomaly finally explained?

Pioneer 10 & 11 are robotic space probes launched by the NASA in the early 1970's. After leaving our solar system, an unusual deceleration of both spacecrafts has been measured to be approximately ...

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