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Big Ideas in Physics

Here is a snapshot of some of the major scientists who have contributed to the development of ideas in Physics.

Isaac Newton

-You have probably heard of the story of the apple that fell on his head which helped him formulate the laws of gravitation. These stories are not entirely accurate in description but contain some elemental truths. Newton did extensive work covering the key principles of mathematics, mechanics and gravitation. He identified gravity as the ultimate force controlling the motions of the heavenly bodies detailing the mathematics of orbital motion round centre’s of force.
Newton also devised principles governing problems of fluids in movement and of motion through fluids and later calculated the speed of sound waves from the density of air. Newton demonstrated how the law of gravity works using the revolutions of the six planets at that time and their satellites.
Isaac Newton postulated that light was made of minute particles and that white light is a mixture of different coloured rays through his experiments on Optics. Based on his extensive scientific work Newton can be regarded as the God father of science.

Charles Coulomb

Coulomb worked on applied mechanics but he is best known for his work on electricity and magnetism. He discovered that given two particles separated by a certain distance, the force of attraction or repulsion is directly proportional to the product of the two charges and is inversely proportional to the distance between the two charges.

John Dalton (1803)

Dalton proposes his atomic model based on ideas previously put forward by Democritus. His theory had three underlying propositions:

  1. All substances are made up of small indivisible particles called atoms
  2. The atoms of one element are exactly the same but are different from the atoms of other element
  3. Atoms combine in simple numerical proportions when elements react together.

Apart from his work on atomic theory Dalton also worked on meteorology, composition of gases and colour blindness.

Joseph John Thompson (1897) (Aka J.J.)

J.J discovered the electron in a series of experiments designed to study the nature of electric discharge in a high-vacuum cathode-ray tube. Thompson proposed the plum pudding model which consisted of a sphere of positive charges surrounded by electrons held together by electrostatic forces. His researches also resulted in the development of the mass spectrograph and influenced Ernest Rutherford’s research focus.

Ernest Rutherford (1871–1937)

Rutherford was responsible for the discovery of alpha and beta rays, he set forth the laws of radioactive decay, and identified alpha particles as helium nuclei important areas in the fields of radioactivity and nuclear physics. Rutherford’s experiments on the atom demonstrated a dense positively charged central core called the nucleus. Rutherford collaborated very well with other scientists for his discoveries.

Erwin Schrodinger

Schrodinger (1925) was the first scientist to devise an equation that could be used to describe the wave pattern of atomic particles. During the twentieth century, it was discovered through experiments that atomic particles behaved in a wave-like pattern. The equation provides a probability of finding particles in a particular region. Ever heard of the saying: Ride the wave Schrodinger, after all you are the one who made it!

James Chadwick (1932)

Chadwick discovered the neutron. Earlier experiments by Ernest Rutherford had proved the existence of a proton in the nucleus and something else that contributed to the atomic mass. Chadwick’s inspiration came from German physicists who were using radiation to bombard Beryllium atoms. He later improved the experiment and demonstrated the existence of neutrons was involved in the production of the first nuclear bombs.