What is Physics?

Physics, unlike other sciences, is defined less by its subject matter and more by its way of applying fundamental principles to discover and explain the behavior of the world around us. It has something to say about everything, from stars and galaxies down to how proteins interact in your body and interactions among sub-atomic particles. Physics can be as concrete as the forces on a car or as abstract as the curved spacetime near a black hole. Physics overlaps all the other sciences — if you study any of them, you will need to study some physics, too. Science seeks to explain nature; physics is the bedrock underlying science.

Physicists are a diverse crowd. Some want to explain the mysteries of the universe. Some strive to solve challenges in the world with new technologies, such as developing alternative sources of energy. Others cross disciplinary boundaries to explain biological or geological phenomena or develop instrumentation that allows novel measurements in a different field. All physicists are building models to understand the behavior of the world — models that can be created through experimental observation and analysis, computational methods, or simply with pen and paper.

Physics is, at its heart, deeply mathematical, even inspiring new types of mathematics, like calculus in Newton’s day and string theory in ours. But the way physics is most often used is hardly mathematical at all, requiring nothing more than rough arithmetic and simple relationships among measurable variables. Studying physics engages your analytical thinking and mathematical skills while building your fundamental understanding of nature. The wide applicability of physics makes it an ideal starting point for students interested in science and a perfect academic focus for a liberal arts education.