Modern Physics

Michael Fowler, University of Virginia

What is “Modern Physics”?

“Modern” physics means physics based on the two major breakthroughs of the early twentieth century: relativity and quantum mechanics.

Physics based on what was known before then (Newton’s laws, Maxwell’s equations, thermodynamics) is called “classical” physics.

This course traces in some detail just how the new ideas developed. We examine the experimental and theoretical paradoxes that forced thinking out of the traditional path.  This is a valuable exercise—the classical ideas are in much better accord with common sense (defined by Einstein as the layer of prejudices in place by age eighteen), so seeing how the new physics came about is helpful in overcoming that “common sense” and getting a better understanding of nature.

But this is not just a course on concepts: the lectures and homework are sufficient to give the student a basic technical grasp of special relativity, and of Schrödinger’s quantum mechanics.

  • Special Relativity
  • Galilean Relativity
  • The Speed of Light
  • Michelson-Morley Expt
  • Time and length in relativity
  • Relativity of simultaneity
  • Lorentz transformations
  • Consistency of time dilation
  • Twin paradox and Doppler
  • Velocity Addition
  • Relativistic dynamics
  • Mass and energy: the Box
  • Energy-momentum formula
  • Particle Creation
  • Electric and Magnetic fields
  • General Relativity
  • Kinetic Theory of Gases
  • Blackbody Radiation
  • Blackbody Radiation: Notes
  • Planck's Path to Discovery
  • The Photoelectric Effect
  • Rays and Particles
  • Brief Historical Review
  • Atomic Spectra
  • Vortices and Pudding
  • Rutherford and the Nucleus
  • The Bohr Atom

Particles and Waves

  • De Broglie's Waves
  • The Uncertainty Principle
  • Probability Amplitudes
  • More on the UP

Schrodinger Equation

  • Wave Equations
  • Electron in a Box
  • Finite Square Well
  • Simple harmonic oscillator
  • Barrier penetration
  • Two-dimensional Wells
  • 3-D waves, angular momentum

Atoms and Nuclei

  • Fermions and bosons
  • The Periodic Table
  • Nuclear decay, fission

Some Extra Course Materials

The Lecture Notes on Special Relativity have been put together in one PDF File here .

For German Readers : All the lectures on Special Relativity have been translated into German by Christoph Scholz, who teaches high school physics (pupils aged 10-19) in Hagen, Germany. They can be downloaded in pdf format at einstein-deutsch.pdf . Scholtz' school URL is // These notes are copyright. Students can make one copy for personal use, but the notes are not to be distributed commercially without permission of the author and the translator.

Old homeworks and exams can be found here .

Links to My Other Courses

  • Galileo and Einstein: Introductory Physics for Nonscience Majors
  • Physics 152: Various Topics for Physics Majors
  • Graduate Quantum Mechanics
  • Graduate Classical Mechanics
  • Graduate E&M (first half)
  • Introductory Physics I: Some PowerPoint Slides
  • Introductory Physics II: More PowerPoint Slides

Undergraduate Contacts

Student Services Specialist

Director Undergraduate Studies

Pre-Major Advising

Physics Major

Grad students group

The mission of the undergraduate program in Physics is to provide students with a strong foundation in both classical and modern physics. The goal of the program is to develop both quantitative problem solving skills and the ability to conceive experiments and analyze and interpret data. These abilities are acquired through both course work and opportunities to conduct independent research. The program prepares students for careers in fields that benefit from quantitative and analytical thinking, including physics, engineering, teaching, medicine, law, science writing, and science policy, in government or the private sector. In some cases, the path to this career will be through an advanced degree in physics or a professional program.

For B.S. in Engineering Physics information use this link

B.S. In Physics

To help in deciding which introductory sequence is most suitable, students considering a major in Physics may contact the undergraduate program coordinator ( elva [at] (elva[at]stanford[dot]edu) ) to arrange an advising appointment with a Physics faculty advisor. Also, see this extensive list of  Physics advising resources , including the  Physics Placement Diagnostic .  Although it is possible to complete the Physics major in three years, students who contemplate starting the major during sophomore year should make an advising appointment to map out their schedule. Students who have had previous college-level courses should make an advising appointment for placement and possible transfer credit. For advanced placement advice, see the  Registrar's website .

To learn more about the Physics major, please refer to the Bulletin information  here .

  • Changes to the start of the Physics major and the introductory Physics courses  
  • Changes in requirements for the Engineering Physics major  
  • Request Info

Physics Major

Physics is crucial to understanding the world around us, the world inside us and the world beyond us. It is the basis of many other sciences, including chemistry, engineering, oceanography, seismology and astronomy (and can be applied to biology or medical science).

What is Physics at WVU like?


The quest to understand the world around us is one of the noblest of mankind’s many adventures. By discovering the basic laws of nature, the inherent desire to learn is satisfied, and the quality of life for all generations to follow may be enhanced.

Because Physics is the most fundamental of the sciences, it plays the central role in these efforts. Whether Albert Einstein in the 20th century or Isaac Newton in the 17th century is considered, physicists have always asked difficult questions and provided unique, unexpected and intellectually challenging answers. As a Physics major, you're offered the opportunity to join this small but dedicated group of professional scientists.

With about 100 Physics majors and 27 permanent faculty members and several visiting professors in residence, our student-faculty ratio is excellent and is one of the greatest strengths of the program.

All faculty are expected to maintain active research programs, and through such activity, professors are able to effectively convey state-of-the-art knowledge that prepares you to fully participate in today’s working environments.

Advanced courses include modern physics, advanced laboratory, optics, theoretical mechanics, quantum mechanics, astrophysics, solid state physics, electromagnetic theory, plasma physics and many other topics. This variety allows flexibility in designing a plan of study.

All BS students complete an area of emphasis.

Physics program highlights:

  • Living-Learning Communities
  • Research/Academic Opportunities

At a Glance

  • Admission Requirements
  • Careers and Employers

Cost and Aid

  • Courses and Plan of Study

Related Majors and Minors

Related pathways.

  • College/School: Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
  • Department: Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • Degree Designation: BA/BS
  • Degree Program: Physics
  • Program: Physics

Interested in this major? Here are some suggested next steps:

Areas of Emphasis

Tailor this major to your interests by taking courses in one of these areas:

  • Applied Physics Capstone research/senior design project must emphasize an applied physics topic. Students interested in completing this area of emphasis are encouraged to consider these courses as general electives: EE 311 Junior Instrumentation Lab; CPE 310 and CPE 311 Microprocessor Systems and Microprocessor Laboratory.
  • Astro/Space Physics Capstone research must emphasize a space physics topic. Students completing this area of emphasis are encouraged to consider the following courses as elective choices: PHYS 340 Experimental Space Physics; EE 223 Electrical Circuits and EE 224 Electrical Circuits Laboratory.
  • Biophysics Capstone research must emphasize a biophysics topic. Students interested in this area of emphasis are encouraged to consider these courses as electives: BIOL 117 Introductory Physiology; BIOL 219 The Living Cell; PHYS 225 Medical Imaging Physics. Students considering medical school are encouraged to take CHEM 233 Organic Chemistry and CHEM 235 Organic Chemistry Laboratory in place of CHEM 231, and follow with CHEM 234 Organic Chemistry and CHEM 236 Organic Chemistry Laboratory as elective courses.
  • Computational Physics Capstone research must emphasize a computational physics topic. Students interested in this area of emphasis are encouraged to consider these courses as electives: CS 221 Analysis of Algorithms; STAT 215 Introduction to Probability and Statistics.
  • Materials Science Capstone research must emphasize a materials science topic. Students interested in this area of emphasis are encouraged to consider these courses as electives: PHYS 321 Optics; CHEM 233 Organic Chemistry and CHEM 235 Organic Chemistry Laboratory. CHEM 233 and 235 are highly recommended for students interested in studying polymers.
  • Medical Physics Capstone research must emphasize a medical physics topic. Students interested in this area of emphasis are encouraged to consider these courses as electives: BIOL 219 The Living Cell; BIOL 310 Advanced Cellular/Molecular Biology. Students considering medical school are encouraged to take CHEM 233 Organic Chemistry and CHEM 235 Organic Chemistry Laboratory in place of CHEM 231, and follow with CHEM 234 Organic Chemistry and CHEM 236 Organic Chemistry Laboratory as elective courses
  • Physics Teaching Capstone research must emphasize a physics or physics education topic. Students interested in this area of emphasis are encouraged to consider these courses as electives to complete the requirements to be recommended to the state for teaching licensure: ARSC 120 Inquiry Approaches to Teaching (1 credit, satisfies service learning requirements); ARSC 220 Inquiry – Based Lesson Design (1 credit, satisfies service learning requirements); UTCH 221 Knowing and Learning in Science and Mathematics (3 credits, satisfied GEF 4); UTCH 222 Classroom Interactions (3 credits); UTCH 420 Project-Based Instruction in Science and Mathematics Classrooms (3 credits); MATH 318 Perspectives on Mathematics and Science (3 credits, satisfied GEF 5); and UTCH 430 Apprentice Teaching (10 credits).
  • Professional Preparation This is the typical plan of study for students who want to do graduate study in physics.

What makes Physics at WVU unique?

Research and Academic Opportunities

Physics students complete capstone projects in all areas of Physics and Astronomy. From discovering new pulsars to developing new diagnostic tools to measure the temperature of 10,000 degree plasmas, Physics students work directly on research projects with faculty for the majority of capstone projects.

Living-Learning Communities (LLCs)

Live, study and pursue outside-the-classroom learning in a residence hall community that shares your interests:

  • The Quad LLC
  • True Colors LLC

Transfer Articulation Agreements

To simplify the transfer process, we have formal agreements with certain institutions. These agreements outline the courses you should take to prepare for transferring to WVU. Review the full list of transfer articulation agreements to see if your institution is listed.

Student Organizations

Connect with other students who share your academic interests as a member of:

  • Society of Physics Students
  • WVU Astronomy Club

View all of the student organizations you can join.

Professional Organizations

Network with professionals in your field as a student member of:

  • American Physical Society

How does this degree prepare students for a career?

Graduates have gone on to graduate study in physics or astronomy, professional school (medicine, dentistry, law), graduate study in engineering or mathematics, high school physics teaching and industrial positions (finance, programming, engineering).

Possible Careers

Wondering what you can do with a degree from WVU's Physics major? Check out these ideas from WVU Career Services and the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) . A median salary is the midpoint of what people typically earn—half of those surveyed earned above the median salary, and half earned below.


Observe, research, and interpret astronomical phenomena to increase basic knowledge or apply such information to practical problems.

$128,330 Median Salary

Computer and Information Research Scientists

Conduct research into fundamental computer and information science as theorists, designers, or inventors. Develop solutions to problems in the field of computer hardware and software.

$136,620 Median Salary

Financial Quantitative Analysts

Develop quantitative financial products used to inform individuals or financial institutions engaged in saving, lending, investing, borrowing, or managing risk. Investigate methods for financial analysis to create mathematical models used to develop improved analytical tools or advanced financial investment instruments.

$73,810 Median Salary

Represent clients in criminal and civil litigation and other legal proceedings, draw up legal documents, or manage or advise clients on legal transactions. May specialize in a single area or may practice broadly in many areas of law.

$135,740 Median Salary

Physical Scientists, All Other

All physical scientists not listed separately.

$107,970 Median Salary

Conduct research into physical phenomena, develop theories on the basis of observation and experiments, and devise methods to apply physical laws and theories.

$142,850 Median Salary

Physics Teachers, Postsecondary

Teach courses pertaining to the laws of matter and energy. Includes both teachers primarily engaged in teaching and those who do a combination of teaching and research.

$86,550 Median Salary

Secondary School Teachers

Teach students in one or more subjects, such as English, mathematics or social studies, at the secondary level in public or private schools. May be designated according to subject matter specialty.

$62,360 Median Salary

Software Developers

Research, design, and develop computer and network software or specialized utility programs. Analyze user needs and develop software solutions, applying principles and techniques of computer science, engineering, and mathematical analysis. Update software or enhance existing software capabilities. May work with computer hardware engineers to integrate hardware and software systems, and develop specifications and performance requirements. May maintain databases within an application area, working individually or coordinating database development as part of a team.

$127,260 Median Salary

This page includes information from O*NET OnLine by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license .

What are the courses like in Physics at WVU?

ASTR 110: Explosions in Space

Topics covered include: special and general relativity, supernovae, neutron stars, black holes, wormholes, time travel and gamma-ray bursts.

ASTR 367: Astrophysics 1

Physical description of the astronomical universe. Physical principles are used to explain the properties and evolution of stars. Physical properties and effects of the Milky Way's interstellar medium are examined.

ASTR 469: Observational Astronomy

Laboratory course consisting of three detailed projects which aim to acquaint students with current techniques for astronomy data analysis and interpretation across the electromagnetic spectrum.

ASTR 470: General Relativity

Innovative 'physics-first' introduction to Einstein's relativistic theory of gravity. Topics covered include special relativity, curved space time, spherical stars, gravitational collapse, black holes, gravitational waves and cosmology.

PHYS 314: Introductory Modern Physics

Topics of modern physics of interest to science majors and engineers; atomic and molecular structure and spectra, solid state and nuclear physics, relativity, and elementary particles.

PHYS 333: Electricity and Magnetism 1

and PR or Conc.: MATH 261. Electrostatics, electrostatics in matter, magnetostatics, magnetostatics in matter.

PHYS 340: Experimental Space Physics

Laboratory course consisting of an experimental project designed to acquaint students with current techniques for the design and construction of scientific payloads for suborbital and orbital space missions.

PHYS 341: Advanced Laboratory

Experiments in physics designed to complement theory courses, give experience in data taking and instrumentation, and learn methods of data evaluation and error analysis.

PHYS 471: Solid State Physics

Properties of crystalline solids; includes crystal structure, interatomic binding, lattice vibrations, electron theory of metals, and the band theory of solids with some applications.

How much does Physics at WVU cost? And how can you save?

Tuition and Fees

Estimated rates are available on our tuition website. Anyone who is not a current West Virginia resident, including international students, will be charged non-resident rates.


Estimate your eligibility for merit scholarships at WVU Morgantown.

Net Price Calculator

Estimate your cost of attendance and eligibility for financial aid and scholarships at any WVU System campus.

Ways to Save

Here are a few ways for you to save on the cost of attending WVU in addition to university scholarships .

Ohio Tuition Reciprocity

As the result of a special agreement, students from Ohio who are fully admitted to Physics can enroll at WVU and pay in-state tuition rates. Students must be admitted to both the University and this major.

To simplify the transfer process, we have formal agreements with certain institutions. These agreements outline the courses you should take to prepare for transferring to WVU.

Review the full list of transfer articulation agreements to see if your institution is listed.

Learn How to Transfer Course Credits


What are the requirements to apply for Physics at WVU?

To be admitted to WVU's Physics major, you must meet WVU's first-time freshman admission requirements for the 2024-25 academic year. Interested in transferring? Review the transfer admission requirements .

What other options does WVU have?

When you understand chemistry, you begin to understand the extraordinary nature of the world down to its most basic particles. Chemistry is the science of the materials we use, the medicine we take, the environment we live in and the food we eat.

Mathematics can be found in almost every sector of the world. Our faculty’s interdisciplinary approach to mathematics will prepare you for careers as research analysts, technical consultants, computer scientists, educators and systems engineers.

What minors could I consider?

What majors share similar career interests with this major at WVU?

Interested in the environment? Agriculture and natural sciences jobs range from sustainable crop and food production to ensuring responsible use of natural resources.

Learn to prevent, diagnose and treat medical conditions – or work in research, technology and other roles in health and wellness organizations.

Math and science touch every part of daily life. In our STEM majors, you’ll solve everyday problems and build a better future for all of us.

I like this major. What are the next steps?

Your first step to becoming a Mountaineer is applying for admission. Our online application makes the process as convenient as possible.

Request Information

Want to know more about Physics at WVU? Fill out the Request Information form to receive more information about the program and life at WVU.

It's the next-best thing to being here – you can virtually tour residence halls and the WVU Morgantown Campus.

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  • Information for High School Counselors
  • Information for Parents and Families
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  • Information for Readmitted Students
  • Information for Current Students
  • Information for Graduate Students
  • Information for Online Students

Interested in talking to someone about WVU?

What You Can Do With a Physics Degree

A physics degree can lead to a career as an inventor, researcher or teacher.

What Can You Do With a Physics Degree?

Two colleagues can be seen interpreting a scientific image on a laptop screen.

Physics contains many subfields including astrophysics, biophysics and chemical physics. (Getty Images)

The real-world applications of physics – an area of science that focuses on the interplay between matter and energy – are so numerous that it is difficult to imagine a technology that doesn't involve physics in some way.

Physics degree recipients graduate with highly marketable skills in math, data analysis and predictive modeling, often finding lucrative employment in the business world.

The Influence of Physics on Society

Simple mechanical devices such as pulleys and levers, as well as complex modern machines like quantum computers and nuclear reactors, would be impossible to create without the use of physics .

Physics lies at the root of many inventions that have had an enormous impact on the everyday life of the average person. There are numerous ordinary objects that people use regularly that rely on the science of physics to function, including semiconductors, lasers, X-rays, GPS devices, radio transmitters and bar code scanners.

Transportation vehicles such as automobiles, airplanes and space shuttles could not be constructed without the help of physics experts. Physics is also useful for military purposes, informing the design of weapons. Many of the scientists responsible for inventing the atomic bomb were physicists, and today physicists are involved in the creation of nuclear weapons.

Physics is integral for space travel, so some astronauts have a credential in this field. This academic discipline is also necessary for explaining and investigating the origins and mechanics of the universe, so it should come as no surprise that legendary space scientists Stephen Hawking, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson all studied physics.

Physicists Who Changed the World

Anyone contemplating a physics degree who is wondering if he or she will be able to use that degree in a meaningful way should study a bit of history. Some of the most accomplished individuals of all time studied physics.

Famous physics degree recipients include legendary innovators such as two-time Nobel Prize laureate Marie Curie – who discovered radioactive elements along with her Nobel-winning husband Pierre Curie and contributed enormously to scientific understanding of radioactivity – and Nobel Prize recipient Albert Einstein, creator of the theory of relativity. Richard Feynman, a Nobel laureate who transformed the way the world understands light, was also a physics scholar.

There are also influential living individuals who have physics degrees, such as serial entrepreneur Elon Musk – founder of the SpaceX aerospace company and co-founder of the Tesla electric automobile firm – and Lene Hau, an applied physicist who pioneered how to slow down and even stop the movement of light.

The Many Types of Physics

The field of physics has increased human understanding of sound, light and heat, and it has enhanced knowledge about electricity, gravity, magnetism and mechanical forces. Physicists can focus on topics ranging from tiny objects like atoms and subatomic particles to enormous things like planets and galaxies. It is a complicated academic discipline that addresses scientific inquiries ranging from the quest to discover the most minuscule particles within atoms to investigations into the behavior of black holes. The field also encompasses debates about the nature of dark matter and controversies about the nature of time.

"Broadly, the three areas of physics are theory, computation, and experiment," Effrosyni Seitaridou, an associate professor of physics at Emory University 's Oxford College in Georgia, explained in an email. "Each subfield of physics contains these three areas."

She notes that physics has many subfields including:

  • Astronomy and astrophysics.
  • Biophysics.
  • Chemical physics.
  • Engineering physics.
  • Geophysics.
  • Medical physics.
  • Particle physics.
  • Quantum computing.

Seitaridou notes that some interdisciplinary subfields of physics integrate natural science with social science, such as psychophysics. Psychophysics focuses on the influence of physical events on a person's perceptions and thought processes.

Physics Jobs

According to a PowerPoint presentation about physics careers published by Crystal Bailey, career programs manager at the nonprofit American Physical Society, physics degree-holders wind up in a wide range of jobs, many outside of academia. Physics grads often work in the private sector and sometimes at government laboratories.

Salary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the median annual salary among U.S. physicists as of May 2019 was $122,850.

Moreover, a report from the American Institute of Physics shows that workers with college degrees in physics routinely use the skills they acquired through their physics education, such as solving technical problems and working productively on a team.

Physics majors routinely collaborate with classmates when conducting lab experiments, and physics faculty say that this experience prepares students for group projects in the workplace. Individuals with physics degrees also tend to have strong quantitative abilities that make them attractive hires for profit-oriented employers, according to physics professors.

"Financial institutions are always on the lookout for physics majors since they have the perfect blend of strong math skills and the training in how to apply math to modeling real-life problems," Jed Macosko, a professor of physics at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, explained in an email.

He notes that physics majors have numerous career options. "The jobs available to physics graduates are more varied than what most science majors can find. They range from pure science, to engineering, to finance, to public policy, and, of course, to education."

The most lucrative employment opportunities for physics grads tend to involve either engineering or finance, Mocosko adds.

Here is a list of jobs where a physics degree might come in handy:

  • Business analyst.
  • Data analyst.
  • Patent attorney.
  • Physics researcher.
  • Physics teacher or professor.
  • Programmer.
  • Project manager.

Abhijeet Narvekar, CEO of The FerVID Group, a Houston-based executive recruiting firm wrote that the oil and gas industry tends to hire physics grads because their knowledge can be applied "to different aspects of extracting oil."

A bachelor's degree in physics can provide a solid foundation for graduate school in a different discipline such as business, law or medicine, notes Rainer Martini, associate dean for graduate studies and associate professor of physics in the school of engineering and science at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.

Having a technical background in physics is useful for professions that combine science with another field. For example, one of Martini's students ended up working for a hedge fund and was tasked with figuring out which technologies were promising and worth investing in.

An advantage of studying physics, he suggests, is that it is easy to switch from one branch of physics to another because they are so interconnected.

Physics training can also help someone become an inventor or businessperson in the tech sector, Martini suggests.

"A physics degree is a great way to become an entrepreneur," he says, adding that physics education enables a person "to see a solution to a technological problem" that others might not see. "Suddenly, you have a potential really great product – a new invention – that can solve a need."

Searching for a grad school? Access our complete rankings of Best Graduate Schools.

Top 11 Global Universities for Physics

Two men can be seen mid-discussion during a scientific seminar. Their focus is on a computer screen and the backgrounds is out of focus.

Tags: physics , education , students , graduate schools , colleges , STEM , STEM jobs

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Modern Physics (ONLINE COURSE)

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The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Understanding Modern Physics I: Relativity and Cosmology

Taught in English

Some content may not be translated

Financial aid available

12,116 already enrolled

Gain insight into a topic and learn the fundamentals

Yi Wang

Instructor: Yi Wang

Coursera Plus

Included with Coursera Plus

(103 reviews)

Recommended experience

Beginner level

Calculus and general physics (especial Newtonian mechanics) are needed.

What you'll learn

Introduction to special relativity, general relativity and cosmology.

Details to know

modern physics degree

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There are 5 modules in this course

Course Overview:

The 20th century was known as the century of physics. In the past 120 years, concepts such as space, time, energy, entropy and particles were understood to much deeper levels. New paradigms of thinking such as relativity and quantum mechanics emerged. This course is the first course in the Understanding Modern Physics series, which covers an introduction to special relativity, general relativity and cosmology. We will find: (i) How space and time are relative to observers, and unified into a more fundamental construction of spacetime; (ii) Why the spacetime is not absolute, but rather curves in response to matter, and how gravity emerge as a result of such spacetime curvature; and (iii) What is the framework to understand the evolution of the whole universe, and how that is related to problems such as the origin of space and matter, and the fate of our universe. Note: the videos with a (*) are optional. They provide complementary information but not in the learning objective or assignment questions. Feel free to choose to watch them or not.

Special Relativity: Relativity of Space and Time

What's included.

14 videos 1 quiz

14 videos • Total 104 minutes

  • Introduction • 7 minutes • Preview module
  • Principles of Relativity • 7 minutes
  • Speed of Light • 6 minutes
  • Postulates • 11 minutes
  • Light Clock • 4 minutes
  • Time Dilation • 13 minutes
  • 4-Step Reasoning • 4 minutes
  • Twin Paradox • 5 minutes
  • Physical Picture • 12 minutes
  • Interferometers (* optional video) • 6 minutes
  • Ether (* optional video) • 10 minutes
  • Speed of Light from Maxwell (* optional video) • 6 minutes
  • Units (* optional video) • 3 minutes
  • Weekly Summary • 4 minutes

1 quiz • Total 30 minutes

  • I - 1 • 30 minutes

Special Relativity: Length, Simultaneity and Lorentz Transformation

17 videos 1 quiz

17 videos • Total 119 minutes

  • Introduction • 2 minutes • Preview module
  • Length Contraction • 6 minutes
  • Length in 4-Step Reasoning (* optional video) • 16 minutes
  • Velocity Addition: First Look (* optional video) • 10 minutes
  • Terrell Rotation (* optional video) • 5 minutes
  • Device for "Same Time" • 7 minutes
  • Spacetime Diagram • 5 minutes
  • Relativity of Same Time • 7 minutes
  • Twin Paradox Revisited (* optional video) • 4 minutes
  • Causality • 11 minutes
  • No Perfect Rigid Body • 3 minutes
  • Ladder Paradox • 9 minutes
  • Lorentz Transform, Space Part • 6 minutes
  • Lorentz Transform, Time Part • 6 minutes
  • Effects From Lorentz Transform • 6 minutes
  • Velocity Addition • 5 minutes
  • Summary • 4 minutes

1 quiz • Total 60 minutes

  • I - 2 • 60 minutes

Special Relativity: Geometry, Energy and Momentum

15 videos 1 quiz

15 videos • Total 109 minutes

  • Geometry • 7 minutes
  • Lorentzian and Euclidean • 9 minutes
  • Invariant Interval • 7 minutes
  • Conserved Quantities • 6 minutes
  • Newtonian Momentum • 5 minutes
  • Momentum • 11 minutes
  • Kinetic Energy • 9 minutes
  • Mass Conservation? • 5 minutes
  • Energy • 7 minutes
  • 4D Vectors • 11 minutes
  • Doppler Effect (* optional video) • 7 minutes
  • Spacetime Metric (* optional video) • 2 minutes
  • Natural Units (* optional video) • 7 minutes
  • Summary • 6 minutes
  • I - 3 • 60 minutes

General Relativity

12 videos 1 quiz

12 videos • Total 100 minutes

  • Why gravity is related to inertia? • 5 minutes
  • Equivalence Principle • 8 minutes
  • Time Dilation • 8 minutes
  • Schwarzschild Metric • 6 minutes
  • Light Bending • 9 minutes
  • Gravitational Lensing • 9 minutes
  • Black Holes • 8 minutes
  • Journey of Falling in • 7 minutes
  • Are Black Holes Black? • 12 minutes
  • Gravitational Waves • 11 minutes
  • Summary • 5 minutes
  • I - 4 • 30 minutes

8 videos 1 quiz

8 videos • Total 86 minutes

  • Olber's Paradox • 10 minutes • Preview module
  • The Observable Universe • 10 minutes
  • Cosmological Principle • 7 minutes
  • Friedmann Equation • 13 minutes
  • Hubble Law • 10 minutes
  • Continuity Equation • 10 minutes
  • Matter Content • 12 minutes
  • Origins and Summary • 10 minutes
  • I - 5 • 30 minutes

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modern physics degree

HKUST is a world-class research-intensive university that focuses on science, technology, and business as well as humanities and social science. HKUST offers an international campus, and a holistic and interdisciplinary pedagogy to nurture well-rounded graduates with a global vision, a strong entrepreneurial spirit, and innovative thinking.

Recommended if you're interested in Physics and Astronomy

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The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Understanding Modern Physics III: Simplicity and Complexity

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What Can You Do With a Physics Degree?

Melissa sartore.

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Updated October 17, 2023

What Can You Do With a Physics Degree? is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Whether you plan to explore the nature of quarks or the properties of outer space, a physics degree will develop your knowledge of matter, motion, space, and time.

Physics degrees introduce students to matter's properties, structures, movements, and behavior in time and space. A physics program integrates natural science with mathematical analysis, training students in the core principles of physics and theories about the nature of the universe.

Coursework introduces learners to historical thinkers like Plato, Galileo, and Isaac Newton, along with more modern physics pioneers such as Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.

Physics students develop an understanding of energy and matter as fundamental elements of the universe. Learners can explore branches of the discipline, such as nuclear and particle physics, astrophysics, and atomic physics. The following information includes descriptions of key physics fields.

  • Collapse All

Astronomy and Astrophysics

Astronomy measures objects' positions and motions, while astrophysics develops theories about how the universe functions. Astronomers and astrophysicists seek answers about how the universe began, developed, and continues to function.

Engineering Physics

Engineering physics includes thermodynamics, computational physics, and fluid dynamics. This interdisciplinary field has applicability across engineering industries and research areas.

This field explores biological organisms and mechanisms of all sizes. It covers mathematical analysis, physics, biology, and chemistry principles.

Geophysics and Meteorology

Geophysics and meteorology apply physics to the Earth's processes and properties. Geophysicists conduct experiments, create computational and theoretical models, and observe the Earth and related planetary processes, while meteorologists focus on the Earth's atmosphere.

Nuclear Physics

This discipline focuses on the protons and neutrons at the center of atomic material, applying physics principles to the study of nuclear matter. Nuclear physics seeks to understand matter by looking at nuclear reactions, changes, and structures.

Quantum Physics

Quantum physics is the study of nature at atomic and subatomic levels. Quantum physicists observe particles, waves, and their properties to develop an understanding of how they function within the universe.

Medical Physics

Often referred to as "biomedical physics" or "applied physics in medicine," this course considers medical science through a physics lens. Medical physicists apply physics concepts and theories to clinical services, like cancer treatment and radiology. Medical physics also comprises researching and developing technologies to meet the needs of medical and healthcare industries.

What Kinds of Physics Degrees Are There?

Physics majors complete coursework in core principles and practices of the discipline, usually covering a lot of hard science and STEM topics, but curricula can vary widely among programs. Along with their chosen subsets of physics, students can focus on theoretical or applied physics.

Theoretical physics involves positing new models to explain the interactions between matter and energy, while applied physics tests models and theories against practical experiments, oftne leading to new technologies. Individuals should choose programs that match their interests and professional goals.

— Associate Degree in Physics

An associate degree in physics introduces students to fundamentals of the discipline, generally serving as a pathway to a bachelor's degree in physics. Enrollees study mathematics, natural science, and chemistry through two years of coursework.

Earning an associate degree in physics often meets the general education requirements for a four-year degree, or graduates can pursue entry-level careers in healthcare or research. With an associate degree in physics, learners can work as laboratory assistants, nuclear technicians, and medical equipment maintenance providers.

— Bachelor's Degree in Physics

A bachelor's degree in physics typically includes four years of coursework. Students begin by learning about core practices and principles of physics before continuing on to specialized classes. Degree-seekers explore nuclear particles, physical optics, and thermodynamics.

With a bachelor's degree in physics, students can pursue roles as physics teachers, laboratory technicians, and applications engineers. A bachelor's degree in physics can also serve as a pathway to graduate work in physics or a related field.

What's the Difference Between a Bachelor of Arts in Physics and a Bachelor of Science in Physics?

Most schools offer bachelor of science (BS) degrees in physics, but some institutions also offer bachelor of arts (BA) degrees in physics. BA and BS programs in physics share many similarities, but BS degrees emphasize research and direct application of physics concepts and principles, while BAs have more generalized curricula.

Earning a BS in physics is ideal for learners interested in pursuing careers in science-related industries or in attending grad school. A BA in physics integrates additional humanities and liberal arts coursework, making it best suited for learners who intend to pursue communications or managerial roles tangential to science.

With a BS in physics, students have the knowledge and skills to work as software engineers, research scientists, and mechanical engineers. A BA in physics leads to positions in data analysis, education, communications, and organizational leadership.

— Master's Degree in Physics

A master's degree in physics includes two years of lecture, laboratory, and research coursework. Core classes cover mechanics, electrodynamics, quantum technology, and mathematical physics.

Students can specialize within the physics discipline in areas like medical physics, astrophysics, and materials science. A master's degree in physics typically requires an in-depth research project or internship. Some programs include a thesis option, which ideal for learners who want to continue on to earn doctoral degrees in physics.

— Doctoral Degree in Physics

Students typically complete doctoral degrees in physics in 5-6 years. The curriculum includes two years of coursework followed by a competency exam. Once learners successfully complete the exam, they conduct independent research projects and produce dissertations.

Doctoral learners specialize in subsets of the field, like cosmology, quantum technology, or biophysics. Each enrollee's emphasis informs their research and dissertation.

With a doctorate in physics, individuals can teach in postsecondary institutions or pursue roles like medical physics program specialist, natural science manager, and computer software engineering manager.

Featured Online Physics Degrees

Accreditation for physics programs.

Most colleges and universities in the United States receive regional or national accreditation . The regional form is preferred for STEM subjects, like physics. Accreditation attests to an institution's educational quality, the scope of its programs, and its compliance with professional standards and policies. Students should always determine the accreditation status of a prospective school before enrolling.

Along with national and regional accreditation, individual programs and departments can receive programmatic accreditation. Several accrediting agencies work in the physics field, including The Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Education Programs , which provides accreditation for medical physics degree programs, and ABET , which accredits applied and natural science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology programs.

What Can I Do With a Physics Degree?

Physics majors can pursue career options across economic sectors. The main industries for physics students include engineering, healthcare, and technology, but graduates can also pursue careers in education, meteorology, and business.

Physics degrees prepare learners to enter these fields by building foundational knowledge and skills in physics, chemistry, and related disciplines. Enrollees develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills applicable to many different roles.


Physics programs integrate coursework in natural science, mathematics, and technology, which can lead to many different employment options in engineering . Bachelor's degrees in physics offer learners basic knowledge and skills to work in engineering, while many master's programs in physics have specializations directly applicable to aspects of engineering . Undergraduate physics majors can also pair their programs with engineering degrees.

Astronomy and Space

Individuals interested in working in astronomy and space-related industries need an understanding of how matter and energy function in the universe, which they can gain by pursuing physics majors. During a bachelor's degree in physics, learners can explore astrophysics, cosmology, and astronomy. These specializations commonly appear in physics graduate programs, as well.

Public Research

A physics degree teaches students about the scientific method, which is essential for individuals interested in working in public research. Students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills while also learning to develop hypotheses, carry out experiments, and draw accurate conclusions based on their findings.

Learners develop essential math and statistics skills for quantitative data assessment during bachelor's degrees in physics. Graduate degrees in physics hone research skills as learners postulate, explore, and conduct advanced research projects of their own.

Physics degrees cover knowledge and skills applicable to many healthcare roles. For example, a physics program typically incorporates coursework in biology, chemistry, technology, and mathematics -- all subjects that benefit individuals working in medicine and healthcare.

Within bachelor's and master's programs in physics, students can focus on biophysics and applied physics in medicine to prepare for healthcare careers.

Technology and Computer Science

Physics degree-seekers complete coursework in mathematics and natural science, while is ideal for pursuing careers in technology and computer science. With a bachelor's degree in physics, students build the qualitative and analytical skills needed to work in technology, especially in more research-oriented positions.

Combining a degree in physics with a major in computer science further enhances qualifications. A master's degree in physics may also include a specialization in computational or applied physics, helping learners thrive as technology and computer science professionals.

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Physics Degree?

Salaries for individuals with physics degrees vary by level, role, and experience. Many of the traditional fields for physics graduates offer lucrative opportunities for employment. By taking specific classes or specializing in topics like engineering, individuals can prepare for careers in high-paying fields with strong projected job growth rates.

Professional Organizations

Frequently asked questions.

This versatile degree can lead to careers in engineering, education, and computer technology. With a physics degree, individuals can also find work in healthcare, research, and business.

Can a Physics Major Work as an Engineer?

Yes. Coursework in a physics degree provides the essential knowledge and skills needed to work in engineering. By combining engineering and physics degrees, students can further enhance their qualifications for engineering careers.

What Classes Do You Need for a Physics Degree?

A physics degree incorporates classes in mathematics, chemistry, and other natural sciences, including courses in quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, and principles of physics.

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Melissa Sartore holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her BA and MA in history are from Western Illinois University. A medievalist by training, she has published on outlawry in medieval England with additional publications on outlaws in popular culture and across geographic and historical boundaries.

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Introduction to Modern Physics – PHYS 305

CG • Section 8WK • 07/01/2018 to 12/31/2199 • Modified 09/05/2023

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Course Description

Introduces special theory of relativity, quantum theory, atomic structure, nuclear structure, wave properties of matter, and statistical physics.

For information regarding prerequisites for this course, please refer to the  Academic Course Catalog .

Introduces special theory of relativity, quantum theory, atomic structure, nuclear structure, radiation, wave properties of matter, and statistical physics.

Course Assignment

Textbook readings and lecture presentations

Course Requirements Checklist

After reading the Course Syllabus and  Student Expectations , the student will complete the related checklist found in the Course Overview.

Homework Assignments (8)

For each module, the student will complete various online exercises in Cengage’s Modern Physics for Scientists and Engineers , WebAssign. These homework assignments will reinforce the content of the course textbook readings from the assigned module. (CLO: A, B, C, D, E)

Presentation Assignments (2)

These assignments require the student to choose a topic covered within the specified modules and generate a presentation explaining the material. (CLO: A, B, C, D, E)

Quiz: Exams (3)

Each quiz will cover the material since the previous exam up to the material in the Learn material of the course. The exams will be done within WebAssign. (CLO: A, B, C, D, E)

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Modern Physics

Modern physics often involves an advanced description of nature through new theories which are different from the classical descriptions and involve elements of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s relativity.

What Is Modern Physics?

Modern physics is a branch of physics that deals with the post-Newtonian concepts in the world of physics. It is based on the two major breakthroughs of the twentieth century: Relativity and Quantum Mechanics . Quantum effects typically involve distances related to atoms. On the other hand, relativistic effects typically involve velocities compared to the speed of light.

modern physics

Who Is the Father of Modern Physics?

Albert Einstein is known as the father of modern physics. He was a 20th-century scientist, who came up with the most important ideas. One of the important works of Albert Einstein is the theory of relativity and the famous equation E=mc 2 .

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1921 for his achievements in theoretical physics, particularly discovering the laws of photoelectric effect.

Watch the video and learn more about relative motion

modern physics degree

Modern Physics Topics

The topics which are considered as the core to the foundation of the subject are stated below:

  • Atomic theory and the evolution of the atomic model in general
  • Black-body radiation
  • Franck–Hertz experiment
  • Geiger–Marsden experiment (Rutherford’s experiment)
  • Gravitational lensing
  • Michelson–Morley experiment
  • Photoelectric effect
  • Quantum thermodynamics
  • Radioactive phenomena in general
  • Perihelion precession of Mercury
  • Stern–Gerlach experiment
  • Wave-particle duality

Modern Physics Formulas

In this video, we provide an in-depth analysis of pyqs of modern physics for jee 2024.

modern physics degree

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs

What is modern physics, what is the photoelectric effect, who is the father of modern physics, what is black body radiation, what is wien’s displacement law, what was the purpose of the davisson-germer experiment, what is work function, laws of physics can be articulated based on _____________ according to einstein’s special theory of relativity. a) quantum state b) non-inertial frame of reference c) inertial frame of reference d) none of these, watch the video and study modern physics jee py questions.

modern physics degree

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Modern Physics

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  • Updated on  
  • Apr 29, 2023

Modern Physics

Physics is a prominent field of science that is filled with a number of remarkable and astonishing experiments, facts and discoveries which have been life-changing contributions. Modern Physics is a subfield of Physics and consists of a variety of ground-breaking inventions and concepts. Dealing with post-Newtonian concepts, Modern Physics is based on two major milestones of the 20th century, i.e. Relativity and Quantum Mechanics . Oftentimes students preparing for class 12th boards or competitive exams like JEE Mains , JEE Advanced etc have to cover this topic. Here is a blog that aims to elucidate important topics, formulas and concepts of modern physics. 

Must Read: Basic Physics Formulas & Notes for Competitive Exams

This Blog Includes:

Modern physics: topics , modern physics: formula , effect of collector’s potential on photoelectric current , laws of photoelectric effect, bohr’s atomic model , laws of radioactivity , important discoveries in modern physics.

Being a vital part of the physics syllabus for Class 12 , modern physics consists of a variety of foundational topics and some of these have been mentioned below:

  • Black-Body Radiation 
  • Atomic Theory and the Evolution of the Atomic Model in General 
  • Michelson- Morley Experiment 
  • Geiger-Marsden Experiment (Rutherford’s Experiment)  
  • Quantum Thermodynamics 
  • Photoelectric Effect 
  • Radioactive Phenomena in General 
  • Wave-Particle Duality 
  • Perihelion Precession of Mercury 
  • Stern-Gerlach Experiment
  • Frank-Hertz Experiment 
  • Gravitational Lensing

Check Out: Class 12th Physics Electrostatics Notes

In order to cover different topics of modern physics, it is important to go through the formulas which you must remember as they will help you solve numerical problems in competitive exams. There are different formulas required to crack derivations and concept-based questions. Here are the major formulas of Modern Physics that you must know about: 

You might be interested in: Physics Syllabus for Class 12

Modern Physics: Notes

While gearing up for engineering entrance exams or any other rigorous competitive exams, you must learn about the basic core concepts of modern physics. Making notes while practising a subject will also help you in the last-moment revision. Mentioned below are important notes for this topic:

  • Current for zero value potential reflects that the electrons are ejected from the given surface of the emitter with random energy.
  • Due to a change in potential, the electrons gradually changing in number reflects that the ejected electrons possess a variety of velocities.
  • For a negative potential of the collector, the current is reduced to zero indicating that is some upper limit of the energy that electrons emit.
  • The stopping potential does not depend on the intensity of the light. 
  • The current is dependent on the intensity of the incident light.
  • Referred to as an instantaneous process, the photoelectric effect is explained as a phenomenon which occurs when electrons are emitted from a metal surface when the light of an adequate frequency is incident upon.
  • The photoelectric current is independent of the frequency of light and is directly proportional to the intensity of light.
  • The maximum velocity of the electrons (stopping potential) is dependent on the frequency of the incident light.
  • Threshold Frequency is the minimum frequency below which the emission of electrons stops.
  • The nucleus which is the central part of the atom contains a positive charge and almost the entire mass of the atom . Also, the electrons revolve around the nucleus in a fixed circular orbit.
  • Stationery Orbits/Permitted Orbits are the fixed circular paths in which electron revolves without radiating any energy.
  • The electrons possess an angular momentum (L=  mvr) while revolving in the stationery which is an integral multiple of h/2𝝿

L= mvr= nh/2𝝿

In the above-mentioned formula, h is Planck’s constant and n is an integer

  • While moving, the electron can change their orbits. When they absorb the energy they move into a higher other orbit and the emission of energy takes place whenever an electron moves into a lower orbit. If f is the frequency of radiant energy, 

Modern Physics

  • Radioactivity takes place due to the disintegration of a nucleus
  • The law of conservation of charge is also interconnected with the laws of radioactivity. 
  • External conditions like Temperature, Pressure etc. do not affect the rate of disintegration.
  • Each of the product disintegrations is a new element which has chemical and physical properties distinct from that of the parent atom.

Take a look at the Top 10 Toughest Exams in India

There have been a number of different experiments which have marked the history of Modern Physics. There are several that help in providing a deeper understanding of the structure of matter and atoms. A few examples of these discoveries are:

  • Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895 discovered the existence of X-rays .
  • Max Planck was a German physicist. In the year 1900, he proposed that the energy charged by the electromagnetic field can be quantified. 
  • In 1905, Albert Einstein , through the theory of relativity explained and showed that references move at very high speeds. That speed is close to the speed of light propagation.

Also, check out 15 Must Read Bestselling Quantum Physics Books

Particle-Wave Duality, Atomic Theory, Thermodynamics, and Oscillations and Waves are among the topics covered in class 11. Modern Physics chapters in class 12 are as follows: There is a photoelectric effect.

It mostly consists of special relativity, relativistic quantum mechanics, the Dirac equation and Feynman diagrams, quantum fields, and general relativity. The goal of modern physics is to cover these issues thoroughly.

It depends on the student; some of the most difficult and conceptual parts of Physics require time and patience to learn.

Hopefully, these notes and formulas of modern physics have helped you in getting a stronghold over the concept. Confused about how to make the right career choice after class 12th? Book an online session with our Leverage Edu experts and let us help in making an informed decision to soar towards your dream career!

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  • Modern Physics


Let’s Delve Deeper into the Topic!

Modern Physics is a branch of physics that deals with the fundamental nature of the universe with post-Newtonian concepts. In the early twentieth century, some experimental results could not be matched with the predictions of classical physics, which describes physical phenomena at an ordinary scale. Modern physics gradually took birth from these theories. The two pillars of modern physics are quantum theory and the theory of relativity. Quantum theory explains the physical phenomena at a short scale whereas the theory of relativity describes large-scale physics and gravity. The results of classical theory can be approximated from both theories.

Father of Physics

Physics is the study of all-natural phenomena from both theoretical and experimental view points. The developments of the subject have been made by numerous scientists. Considering the most important contributions, the title “Father of Physics” is given to three scientists at different times. 

Galileo Galilei is called the Father of Observational Physics for his contributions to Astrophysics. 

Sir Issac Newton gave the laws of motion and gravitation. Classical physics is based on his theory, which works fine on an ordinary scale. He also gave the theory of calculus in mathematics. For their remarkable contributions, Newton is known as the Father of Physics.

Albert Einstein is considered the Father of Modern Physics. He gave the special theory of relativity and the general theory of relativity. These theories govern the behaviour of objects at high speeds (close to the speed of light) and gravity. He was awarded the Nobel prize for the explanation of the photoelectric effect. 

The Advent of Quantum Theory

Classical physics failed to explain the experimental results of black body radiation, photoelectric effect, and the phenomena of interference of electrons, the stability of an atom. Classical physics considers waves and particles as different notions. In 1900, Max Planck hypothesized that light consists of packets or quanta of energy, called photons. Each photon has energy

Here, v is the frequency of light and h is Planck’s constant. 

Although it contradicts the classical theory that considers light as an electromagnetic wave , the black body radiation phenomenon could be described by this hypothesis. Later in 1905, Einstein successfully explained the photoelectric effect, considering light as a swarm of photons (quanta of energy). 

On the other hand, the interference of electrons and the stability of an atom could only be described if electrons were considered as waves. De Broglie hypothesized that every particle behaves as a wave, having wavelength:

\[\lambda\] = \[\frac{h}{p}\]

Here, p is its momentum. Everyday objects have very short wavelengths, such that classical theory works at an ordinary scale but the wavelengths of subatomic particles like electrons are comparable with their dimensions. 

To describe physics at small scales (e.g. atomic scale), quantum theory was found to be necessary. In this theory, energy, angular momentum, and other quantities of a bound system are quantized. Many physicists including Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Pauli, and Dirac formulated the theory from a mathematical point of view. In the late twentieth century, Quantum Field Theory emerged through the works of scientists like Jordan, Hawking, Weinberg, Feynman.

Origin of the Theory of Relativity

Einstein realized that space and time are not different concepts. Any observation depends on a frame of reference, so that space and time are relative. Newtonian physics considers time as a constant that does not depend on the observer. The classical theory failed to explain Mercury’s precision and time difference of satellites. The theory of relativity could explain these phenomena. Einstein introduced the idea of “spacetime”. A massive object can wrap the fabric of spacetime and gravity is its consequence. Einstein also realized that mass and energy are equivalent concepts. The equivalent energy E corresponding to a mass m is,

(Image will be uploaded soon)

Here, c denotes the speed of light in a vacuum . 

Black Body Radiation

Black-body radiation is the thermal electromagnetic radiation released by a black body when it is in thermodynamic equilibrium with its surroundings (an idealised opaque, non-reflective body). It has a defined spectrum of wavelengths that are inversely linked to intensity and are only dependent on the body's temperature, which is considered to be uniform and constant for the sake of calculations and theory.

Many everyday items spontaneously release thermal radiation that can be approximated as black-body radiation. Internally, a fully insulated container in thermal equilibrium includes black-body radiation, which it will release through a hole in its wall if the opening is small enough to not influence the equilibrium.

Solid State Physics

Quantum mechanics, crystallography, electromagnetism, and metallurgy are all used in solid-state physics to explore rigid matter or solids. It is the most important subdiscipline in condensed matter physics. Solid-state physics investigates how solid materials' large-scale characteristics are derived from their atomic-scale properties. Solid-state physics is thus the theoretical foundation of materials science. It also has direct uses, such as in transistor and semiconductor technologies.

The majority of solid-state physics is centred on crystals as a generic theory. This is mostly because the periodicity of atoms in a crystal — its distinguishing feature — makes mathematical modelling easier. Similarly, crystalline materials frequently possess electrical, magnetic, optical, or mechanical characteristics that can be used in engineering applications.

Atomic Theory

The scientific hypothesis that matter is made up of tiny bits called atoms is known as atomic theory. The origins of atomic theory may be traced back to an ancient intellectual tradition known as atomism. According to this theory, if you cut a lump of stuff into smaller and smaller bits, you would ultimately reach a point where the parts can no longer be sliced into smaller pieces. These hypothesised fundamental elements of substance were given the name ‘atomos’ by ancient Greek philosophers, which meant "uncut."

John Dalton

John Dalton researched and expanded on this previous work , defending a new idea later known as the law of multiple proportions: if the same two elements can be combined to form several different compounds, the ratios of the two elements' masses in their various compounds will be represented by small whole numbers. This was a prevalent pattern noted by Dalton and other scientists at the time in chemical processes.

Amedeo Avogadro addressed the weakness in Dalton's theory in principle in 1811. Equal volumes of any two gases, under equal temperature and pressure, contain equal numbers of molecules, according to Avogadro (in other words, the mass of a gas's particles has no bearing on the volume it occupies). By observing the volumes at which gases interacted, Avogadro's law allowed him to derive the diatomic nature of many gases. For example, when two litres of hydrogen react with one litre of oxygen to make two litres of water vapour (at constant pressure and temperature), a single oxygen molecule splits in half to produce two water particles. As a result, Avogadro was able to provide more precise estimations of the atomic mass of oxygen and other elements, as well as distinguish between molecules and atoms.

Brownian Motion

Robert Brown, a British botanist, noticed that dust particles inside pollen grains floating in water jiggled around for no apparent cause in 1827. Albert Einstein proposed in 1905 that the Brownian motion was created by water molecules constantly pushing the grains around, and he constructed a hypothetical mathematical model to explain it. In 1908, French physicist Jean Perrin confirmed this model experimentally, offering more support for particle theory (and by extension atomic theory).

Concepts of Modern Physics

The key concepts of quantum theory are,

Wave-Particle Duality: Light behaves as both wave and particle. Light consists of photons or quanta of energy. Particles have a wave nature. Particles are delocalized in space

Uncertainty Principle: It is not possible to measure the precise position and momentum of a particle simultaneously.

Measurement Problem: Performing a measurement or observing a system changes its state.

The Concepts of Relativity are:

No massive object can have a speed greater than that of light. The laws of physics always remain invariant for all observers.

Mass causes curvature in spacetime.

When an object approaches the speed of light, its length reduces (length contraction). A moving clock slows down (time dilation).

The sequence of events or the cause-effect structure (causality) remains preserved.

Gravitational and inertial masses are equivalent.

Did You Know?

Gravity can bend light. It causes gravitational lensing, which is the phenomenon of bending of light near a massive object.

Time slows down near a massive object. 

Gravitational attraction is the consequence of the bending of spacetime.

An accelerating mass can create ripples in spacetime, which is referred to as gravitational waves. In 1915, gravitational waves were detected.

Classical physics can be retrieved from modern physics by taking appropriate limits.

Interference of electrons, photoelectric effect, hydrogen spectrum, blackbody radiation are verifications of quantum physics.

Anomalies in the orbits of planets, time gaps in satellites, gravitational waves match the predictions of relativity.

There are four fundamental forces in nature namely gravitational force, electromagnetic force, strong and weak forces. The last three forces are described by the Standard model.

Scientists are trying to incorporate quantum theory and the theory of relativity through the conception of a more general theory, often referred to as the “theory of everything”.

Modern physics deals with the fundamental nature of the universe with post-Newtonian concepts. Two pillars of modern physics are quantum theory and the theory of relativity. The title "Father of Physics" is given to three scientists at different times for their contributions to Astrophysics.


FAQs on Modern Physics

1. What are the Modern Physics Topics?

Modern physics is based on quantum mechanics and relativity. Quantum theory explains the physical phenomena at a short scale whereas the theory of relativity describes large-scale physics and gravity. Quantum physics broadly consists of topics like atomic structure, wave nature of matter, the spin of elementary particles, uncertainty principle, radioactivity, and many more. Relativity is concerned with the mass-energy equivalence, the curvature of spacetime, and the equivalence principle.

2. Who is the Father of Modern Physics?

Albert Einstein is called the father of modern physics. Issac Newton is called the father of physics for his contributions to classical physics. He gave the laws of motion and calculus. Newton’s theories describe physical phenomena at ordinary scales. Galileo Galilei is called the father of observational physics for his observations in astronomy.

3. What is the difference between modern and classical physics?

Classical physics is concerned with everything you can see or feel in your environment. Mechanics (Newtonian, fluid, and aerodynamics) is concerned with your movements as well as those of everything you can see, such as bicycles, birds, and even the breeze.

Most of the technology you use is based on classical electrodynamics and magnetism, including your home's circuits, road lamps, and this screen.

Everything you see above is the result of modern physics. To put it another way, current physics is concerned with the very basic building components of matter, as well as the nature of the space and time in which matter exists.

Classical physics studies more fundamental things than general relativity and quantum physics, and these fundamental 'things' (which might be particles, fields, symmetries, and more) give birth to the daily events that classical physics describes simply.

4. Why is modern physics referred to as Modern?

It is based on two significant twentieth-century breakthroughs: relativity and quantum theory. The word "modern physics" refers to current physics. This name alludes to the breakthrough that occurred following Newton's laws, Maxwell's equations, and thermodynamics, which are all considered "classical" physics.

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Physics library

Welcome to the physics library, unit 1: one-dimensional motion, unit 2: two-dimensional motion, unit 3: forces and newton's laws of motion, unit 4: centripetal force and gravitation, unit 5: work and energy, unit 6: impacts and linear momentum, unit 7: torque and angular momentum, unit 8: oscillations and mechanical waves, unit 9: fluids, unit 10: thermodynamics, unit 11: electric charge, field, and potential, unit 12: circuits, unit 13: magnetic forces, magnetic fields, and faraday's law, unit 14: electromagnetic waves and interference, unit 15: geometric optics, unit 16: special relativity, unit 17: quantum physics, unit 18: discoveries and projects, unit 19: review for ap physics 1 exam.

The Conversation

The Conversation

Bringing classical physics into the modern world with Galileo's Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment

Posted: December 1, 2023 | Last updated: December 1, 2023

If you drop a light object and a heavy object from a tower, which one reaches the ground first? As you may recall from high school physics, this is a trick question. Neglecting air resistance, they both fall the same way and reach the ground at the same time – gravity means that their speeds increase at 9.8 meters per second squared, no matter what their mass.

That’s the premise behind Galileo Galilei’s Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment, a classic thought experiment in the field of dynamics.

Dynamics is the physics specialization that studies motion and force. A “dynamicist,” one who studies dynamics, can do everything from improve a basketball player’s free throw to help design spacecraft for interstellar travel .

As a dynamicist , I’ve spent much of my career helping students make sense of modern dynamics. The Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment is one good way to do this. It can explain how classical mechanics – the field that engineers and educators employ every day – was brought into the modern world.

Galileo’s Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment

The Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment led to the curious realization that objects fall with the same accelerations regardless of their mass. But what happens when you place objects of different masses on a smooth table and push each of them with the same force?

Even without accounting for friction , the objects’ accelerations are now different. The lighter objects accelerate more than the heavy ones. When falling, their accelerations are the same, yet when sliding, they’re different.

Let’s now place the two objects in orbit . Imagine one of them is the Sun and the other is the Earth. In classical mechanics, the Sun exerts a force on the Earth equal in magnitude to the force that the Earth exerts back on the Sun.

But the Sun is huge compared with the Earth . Shouldn’t the magnitude of the larger object’s force be larger? And while we’re at it, how would the magnitude of the Sun’s force on the Earth come to be equal to the magnitude of the Earth’s force on the Sun?

Heavy and light objects have equal accelerations when falling but different accelerations when sliding, and objects in space exert equal gravitational forces on each other despite having different masses. This all seems inconsistent, and a little confusing, right?

Modern mechanics

The problems above came from an ambiguity in the concept of force in classical mechanics. In classical mechanics, the force is an interaction between two objects, involving both objects. The magnitudes of the gravitational forces by the Sun and by the Earth depend on the masses of both bodies. The force was never just by the Sun or just by the Earth without regard to the other.

But modern mechanics – the physics of light, atoms, quantum mechanics and curved space-time – changed this concept of force. The modern force by the Sun and the modern force by the Earth are two separate forces, and they depend only on their own masses, excluding relativistic effects .

In modern mechanics, the force is now an action by an object , not an interaction between them. It is viewed as a force field that radiates outward from its source, whose magnitude grows smaller the farther it is from its source. Modern mechanics is a field theory – it deals with objects and the accelerations their force fields create.

So, what happened to the interaction force? Was it discarded? The answer is no, but it is no longer the most fundamental definition of force, either. In modern mechanics, the interaction force, represented by the letter F, is defined in terms of the action force field, represented by the letter P. The interaction force is now the action force P times the mass m on which P acts, so F = mP.

Newton’s second law of motion , a fundamental part of classical mechanics, sets the interaction force F by an object equal to the mass m on which the object acts multiplied by its acceleration, so F = ma. The modern version sets the action force P by an object equal to the other object’s acceleration, so P = a. When multiplying P = a by m we get back F = ma.

Notice it was not about the math in classical mechanics being wrong – but more about the fundamental force being an action force and not an interaction force.

The modern thinking

The modern thinking reinterprets Galileo’s Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment , the sliding blocks, the orbiting of the Earth around the Sun – and interactions in general.

In Galileo’s Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment, the light and heavy objects were falling due to the Earth’s action force, which does not depend on the masses of the falling objects, so their accelerations are naturally the same.

The light and heavy objects sliding on the smooth table were acted on by the same interaction forces. But the fundamental forces – the action forces – are different, so their accelerations are naturally different, too.

In the orbiting of the Earth around the Sun, the action forces by the Sun and by the Earth are no longer equal. The action force by the Sun, with its huge mass, is proportionally larger than the force by the Earth – as intuition suggests.

Science takes many years to evolve as it edges closer to revealing the nature of reality. One sees this in the evolution that led to modern mechanics – where scientists now embrace a theory of force fields that predicts the dynamics of objects, despite it being almost against common sense.

This article is republished from The Conversation , >, a nonprofit, independent news organization bringing you facts and analysis to help you make sense of our complex world.

  • Art and science entwined: This course explores the long, interrelated history of two ways of seeing the world
  • Caroline Herschel was England’s first female professional astronomer, but still lacks name recognition two centuries later

Larry M. Silverberg does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Galileo, holding two balls, about to perform his legendary experiment.

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