Who are Physicists and what do they do?

From a “reference frame” article by Michael S. Turner, in the September 2009 issue of Physics Today:

“I have always liked the metaphor of a child watching chess to convey the mission of physics—namely, that we carefully observe Nature to discover her underlying rules. Of course, knowing the rules doesn’t mean you understand the game. That is especially true in complex systems, whether turbulent fluids or living organisms. Understanding complexity and the emergence of large-scale behavior remains a big challenge. ”

This is very true of many pheonmena in Physical Oceanography and Climate Physics.

Another quote from the same article:

“There is an important unity in how physicists approach problems. Physicists use rigorous and quantitative methods; they search for underlying principles and fundamental laws; they begin with simple models and add complexity; and they rely on reductionism and innovative instrumentation. While the name of the activity remains the same, the foci change—so much so that the only robust definition is that physics is what physicists do. Physics has evolved from earthly and celestial mechanics 400 years ago to include electricity, magnetism, and statistical mechanics in the 18th and 19th centuries; and today it encompasses materials, atoms, nuclei, elementary particles, the cosmos, and a growing number of aspects of biology. Its practitioners have invented new tools—mathematical, conceptual, and instrumental—to get at the most urgent questions of their day.”

The full article is at the Physics Today Website at  http://ptonline.aip.org/journals/doc/PHTOAD-ft/vol_62/iss_9/8_1.shtml

One Response to “Who are Physicists and what do they do?”

  1.   rakesh Says:

    I always think we are in the middle of a game ( like chess) and trying to explore the basic rules of game ( nature in our case) — very complex problem :)