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5 Reasons Everyone Should Study Physics

When I tell people that I am in graduate school to study physics, the most common reaction is a noticeable cringe.  People are impressed, but say that they could never study physics themselves.  I would argue that everyone can, and should, study physics.   

 1)   There is something for everyone.   
 Physics applies to nearly every facet of life, and no matter your interests, it is very likely that physics applies in some way.  Physics is an incredibly diverse subject, with its arms very widely spread.  In the course of studying physics, you can study space, electronics, the earth, biology, acoustics, subatomic particles… The list is nearly endless.  And you do not need to be a scientist to make use of this information.  Musicians and actors need a working knowledge of acoustics.  Athletes need a working knowledge of kinetics.  Many people think of equations when they think of physics, but physics is simply the study of the material world.  You can learn a great deal of physics without ever writing an equation.  With that being said, though…   

 2)   It gives you a chance to apply the math that you have learned   

 From my days in high school math, I remember very well the complaints of my classmates.  “We’re never going to use this.”  “This is pointless.” “Why would anyone need to know this.”  Physics is the answer to those complaints.  Physics takes the math you have learned and applies it to real-world situations.  Quadratic equations, graphing, calculus, trigonometry.  All of these are vital when you are studying physics.  It tends to work both ways as well.  I have probably learned nearly as much math by studying physics as I learned in all of my math classes.  The physics makes the math much clearer and easier to understand since it makes it more clear why it matters.  Whether you like math or not, it is nice to have something to make it come alive, and there is no question that physics does exactly that.  In a similar vein…   

 3)   It strengthens problem solving skills   

 There is no question that every person needs the ability to solve problems.  Every job, from the most physical manual labor, to the most menial desk job, to being the CEO of a company requires that the person doing the job is able to solve problems.  Physics strengthens this skill.  When you start in on a physics problem, the first step is to realize what you already know.  Every problem in a textbook or in a lab requires that you evaluate what you know about the problem.  From there, you must decide how you will apply that information to solve the problem at hand.  Sometimes your first intuition turns out to be incorrect and you must start over, but that is all part of the process.  This series is not unique to physics, but by studying physics, you can strengthen those skills for the jobs you will be doing later in life.   

 4)   Physics paved the way for all of our current technology   

 The fact that you are reading this right now is a marvelous achievement of physics.  The discovery of electricity lead to the study of electronics, which led to the study of transistors and semi-conductor physics, which led to computers as we know them.  Every piece of technology that we use has physics to thank for its creation, whether that be directly as in the case of computers, cell phones, and cars, or indirectly as in the case of clothes, the mass production of which would be impossible without physics.  Understanding the basics of how these things were made can deepen your appreciation for the marvels that we use every single day.   

 5)   It gives you perspective   

 Finally, physics can give you perspective on this universe that we live in.  On an ordinary day, we see a very small portion of a small planet in a solar planet that is one of 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is one of 30 galaxies in the local galaxy group, which is one of over 100 groups in the local supercluster, and we don’t even know how many superclusters there are.  The universe is a huge place that we see very little of, but, with physics, can understand a large portion of it.  But, physics doesn’t just give us perspective on how small we are.  Physics also gives us insight into the incredible complexity and intricacy of even the smallest structure.  It is estimated that 5 million million atoms would fit on the head of a pin.  There are 133,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms on the earth.  Everything we see is an incredibly complex compilation of billions upon billions of atoms interacting with each other.  There is a great beauty in this, and it would not be known without physics.   Physics is an incredible science.  Though it can be difficult to understand at times, it gives the kind of knowledge, skills, and beauty that no other subject can provide.

Peter N
Math and Physics Tutor
Benedictine College
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