Questions tagged [soft-question]

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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120
votes
2answers
27k 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? ...
92
votes
20answers
147k views

What software programs are used to draw physics diagrams, and what are their relative merits?

Undoubtedly, people use a variety of programs to draw diagrams for physics, but I am not familiar with many of them. I usually hand-draw things in GIMP which is powerful in some regards, but it is ...
81
votes
11answers
11k views

Why must a physical theory be mathematically self-consistent? [closed]

I always read in modern physics textbooks and articles about the need for physical theories to be mathematically self-consistent, which implies that the theories must not produce contradictions or ...
72
votes
1answer
5k 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 ...
67
votes
5answers
10k views

What is more fundamental, fields or particles?

My confusion about quantum theory is twofold: I lack an adequate understanding of how the mathematics of quantum theory is supposed to correspond to phenomena in the physical world I still have an ...
67
votes
5answers
16k 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 ...
53
votes
49answers
12k views

Common false beliefs in Physics [closed]

Well, in Mathematics there are somethings, which appear true but they aren't true. Naive students often get fooled by these results. Let me consider a very simple example. As a child one learns this ...
51
votes
6answers
6k views

What physics paper would a high school student be able to read?

I'm looking for a physics paper which a typical high school student who is new to physics would be able to read and grasp the general idea of the purpose, setup and results, if not the details. To be ...
49
votes
8answers
8k views

What technology can result from such expensive experiment as undertaken in CERN?

I wonder what technology can be obtained from such very expensive experiments/institutes as e.g. undertaken in CERN? I understand that e.g. the discovery of the Higgs Boson confirms our understanding ...
46
votes
8answers
16k 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 ...
45
votes
3answers
10k views
43
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6answers
9k 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 ...
39
votes
2answers
14k views

What are Stephen Hawking's main contributions to research-level physics?

Without a doubt, Stephen Hawking is the most famous living scientist; indeed, his public visibility in all of history seems to be rivaled only by Einstein and easily eclipses giants of physics such as ...
39
votes
8answers
61k 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 ...
38
votes
8answers
8k views

Will we ever be able to view the past?

By analogy with the sun, whose light is apparently reaching us in 8 minutes, it means that we are only viewing the sun 8 minutes ago when we look up at it. However, what if we were eventually able to ...
38
votes
1answer
3k 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''?
36
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4answers
8k views

What was the 'quantum mechanics' before quantum mechanics?

Quantum mechanics is near-universally considered one of the most difficult concepts to grasp, but what were the persistently unintuitive, conceptually challenging fields physicists had to grasp before ...
35
votes
10answers
3k 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. ...
34
votes
9answers
8k views

Why ket and bra notation?

So, I've been trying to teach myself about quantum computing, and I found a great YouTube series called Quantum Computing for the Determined. However. Why do we use ket/bra notation? Normal vector ...
33
votes
24answers
4k 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 ...
32
votes
6answers
8k 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 ...
31
votes
6answers
4k 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 ...
30
votes
11answers
6k 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 ...
29
votes
24answers
39k views

Books that every physicist should read

Inspired by How should a physics student study mathematics? and in the same vein as Best books for mathematical background?, although in a more general fashion, I'd like to know if anyone is ...
28
votes
8answers
7k 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 ...
28
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 ...
27
votes
7answers
17k 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 ...
27
votes
15answers
5k 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 I'...
27
votes
5answers
76k views

What is the math knowledge necessary for starting Quantum Mechanics?

Could someone experienced in the field tell me what the minimal math knowledge one must obtain in order to grasp the introductory Quantum Mechanics book/course? I do have math knowledge but I must ...
27
votes
3answers
20k views

Why does the metric system use “kilogram” as a base 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 ...
26
votes
5answers
28k 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 ...
26
votes
3answers
12k 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 ...
26
votes
3answers
2k views

The scope of physics, as taught in modern times

I am asking this question based on my recent experience as a physics major at a well-known school of science and engineering. My basic question is, Why does the field of physics (at least at an ...
25
votes
8answers
7k views

Starting a physics Ph.D. at 60? [closed]

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 ...
25
votes
11answers
7k 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 ...
24
votes
3answers
4k views

Programming in physics [closed]

How important is programming in physics? I am studying physics at university and these first years there is actually no approach (as it is understandable) to what working in physics is like. Now, I ...
24
votes
3answers
11k 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?
24
votes
11answers
24k views

Graduate Physics Problems Books

Need to brush up on my late-undergrad and early-grad physics and was wondering if anyone can recommend books or lecture notes (hard copy, or on-line) that also have solutions. Two that I have come ...
21
votes
3answers
3k views

Was the understanding of QM fundamental to the creation of transistors and silicon semiconductors?

Without quantum mechanics there would be no transistor, and hence no personal computer; no laser, and hence no Blu-ray players. James Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota, ...
21
votes
1answer
1k views

Why are gauge theories called so?

Why are gauge theories called so? I guessed it was because gauge also means to estimate, so when one is trying to find the gauge theory for such and such interactions one has to estimate what might be ...
21
votes
4answers
4k 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 ...
20
votes
4answers
4k views

Why are grams usually only expressed as milligrams, grams or kilograms?

I'm a physics (and electronics and astronomy, etc.) enthusiast. As I learn and research topics, I notice that many SI units are often expressed using a variety of prefixes, such as in electronics ...
20
votes
2answers
491 views

Post-doc advice for a low publication grad student [closed]

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 ...
20
votes
10answers
7k views

Theoretical Physics - How to? [closed]

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 ...
20
votes
4answers
3k views

If the LHC-calculated mass of the Higgs is wrong, how long will it take to determine this with confidence? [closed]

After I watched "Particle Fever"--the movie about Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and the successful identification of the Higgs boson--I became a bit concerned with that team's handling of various ...
20
votes
5answers
1k 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? ...
20
votes
2answers
4k 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 ...
19
votes
16answers
5k 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 ...
19
votes
3answers
3k views

Can we tell when an established theory is wrong?

I was reading the following answer from this question: In physics, you cannot ask / answer why without ambiguity. Now, we observe that the speed of light is finite and that it seems to be the ...
19
votes
5answers
6k 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 ...