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"My daughter has to read this for her AP Physics class. It is a bit densely written, although very comprehensive as to Physicists that have contributed to the field. I would suggest you read it with a computer nearby to look up some of the less self-evident terms."

"Great outline of physics."

Books by H. Thomas Milhorn

The History of Physics: A Biographical Approach

ISBN 978-1-60264-202-7


The history of physics ranges from antiquity to modern string theory. Since early times, human beings have sought to understand the workings of nature—why unsupported objects drop to the ground, why different materials have different properties, and so forth.

Initially, the behavior and nature of the world and celestial phenomena were explained by invoking the actions of the various gods. Then, one god became the explanation for both. And then explanations for earthly events began to be accepted based on speculation as to their cause and nature, while celestial events were still felt to be of a divine nature, requiring no explanation. Eventually, human beings began to look for scientific explanations for both.

The emergence of physics as a science, distinct from natural philosophy, began with the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries when the scientific method came into vogue. Speculation was no longer acceptable; research was required.

The beginning of the 20th century marks the start of a more modern physics. Physicists began to study the atom, with its electrons and nucleus. The nucleus was found to be composed of neutrons and protons. Then came nuclear physics, where physicists began to look at the forces that hold the nucleus together and the particles that account for the four natural forces—strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, electromagnetic force, and gravitational force.

Physicist began to look for a unified theory that accounted for all four natural forces, leading to chromodynamics, the electroweak theory, the Standard Model, and string theory.

Although the great body of knowledge we now call physics has come into being because of the work of physicists, many individuals from other disciplines have contributed, including those from mathematics, engineering, chemistry, and medicine. And at least one botanist made a significant contribution.

To those who made significant contributions to physics, and I inadvertently left them out of this book, I humbly apologize.

Those individuals whose contributions have been mainly astronomy or astrophysics are notably absent. An additional volume, The History of Astronomy and Astrophysics, is also available.

I have chosen to approach the history of physics from a biographical point of view, feeling that people are more interesting than things, and the combination of the two are more interesting than the sum of the individual parts. After a brief overview of classical and modern physics, 337 one-page biographies of individuals who have made significant contribution to the field of physics are presented.