Monday, August 27, 2012

579 - A 1939 Map of Physics - Big Think (blog)

Geography was my favourite subject in school; physics the one I disliked the most. If only I’d known about this Map of Physics!  

This spatial representation of the subject, dating from 1939, defines itself as Being a map of physics, containing a brief historical outline of the subject as will be of interest to physicists, students, laymen at large; Also giving a description of the land of physics as seen by the daring sould who venture there; And more particularly the location of villages (named after pioneer physicists) as found by the many rivers; Also the date of founding of each village; As well as the date of its extinction; and finally a collection of various and sundry symbols frequently met with on the trip.


Map of Physics (1939)


Perhaps, by representing physics as a continent and its main branches as rivers, it would have made that vast, mysterious subject more graspable to a mind more attuned to geography. And maybe, by populating its districts with villages named after famous physicists, the relation between those pioneers and their field of expertise would have been easier to memorise.  

Those fields are, left to right and top to bottom: Mechanics, Sound, Electricity, Magnetism, Light, Astronomy, Heat, Mechanical and Elecromagnetic Energy, and Radioactivity.

The map is more than a random representation of the different fields of physics: by displaying them as topographical elements of the same map, it hints at the unified nature of the subject. “Just like two rivers flow together, some of the largest advances in physics came when people realised that two subjects were [like] two sides of the same coin”, writes Jelmer Renema, who sent in this map.

Some examples: “[T]he joining of astronomy and mechanics […] by Kepler, Galileo and Newton (who showed that the movement of the Moon is described by the same laws as [that of] a fallling apple.” At the centre of the map, mechanics and electromagnetism merge. “Electromagnetism [itself is] a fusion between electricity and magnetism, which were joined when it was noted by Oersted that an electric current produces a magnetic field, and when it was noted by Faraday that when a magned is moved around in a wire loop, it creates a current in that loop.”




Another example: along the stream that represents Astronomy are listed, in more or less chronological order, such contributors to the field as Anaxagoras (500-428 BC), Empedocles (490-430 BC), Philolaus (470-399 BC), Democritus (470-357 BC), Aristarchus (3rd century BC), Purbach (1423-1461), Copernicus (1475-1543), Tycho [Brahe] (1546-1601), Kepler (1571-1630) and Galileo (1564-1642).




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