Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Physics rocks

The Year of Science continues. (Cue orchestra. If YoS doesn't have a theme, it should.)

In March, YoS is celebrating physics and technology. To which -- being a one-time physicist and technologist -- I can say, only, woohoo.

Through my years of education teacher after teacher made claims of universality for their subjects -- then other teachers (and experience) would refute them. But some claims are stronger than others ...

Let's look at physics and what it has brought us. For starters:
  • Gadgets. Devices that were unimaginable not only became real, but also faster, smaller, and cheaper by the year. Computers, iPods, cell phones, GPS, antilock brakes ... the list is long. We shrink transistors by one order of magnitude after another, and quantum-mechanical rules persist.
  • The internet. Consider the medium on which we hold this dialogue. Graybeard that I am, a global data network was incredible -- very literally -- within my lifetime. Now the internet is accessible from across the globe (faster all the time) and from near-Earth orbit. NASA plans to expand it to new worlds.
  • Flight. It's progressed in scarcely a century from rickety wood-and-cloth contraptions barely able to get off the ground to transoceanic capability to supersonic flight to men on the moon to robotic explorers across the solar system.
  • Worlds. 300+ planets have been identified around stars light-years distant.
  • Cosmic insight. Think of the Hubble, and the GRO, and COBE, and (insert the name of your favorite observatory). Think of the information that's been gleaned from electromagnetic waves billions of light-years on their way -- and thus billions of years old.
And to repeat, that's only for starters.

Is any of that universality? Maybe not. Can anyone prove universality? No. We may yet discover different rules apply to some galaxy that's long ago and far, far away.

But if any candidate for universality has a track record as good as physics, I've yet to encounter it.

That's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it.

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