The Map of Physics: Animation Shows How All the Different Fields in Physics Fit Together

From Newton’s mechan­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions to Einstein’s gen­er­al and spe­cial rel­a­tiv­i­ty to the baf­fling inde­ter­mi­na­cy of quan­tum mechan­ics, the dis­ci­pline of physics has become increas­ing­ly arcane and com­plex, and less and less gov­erned by order­ly laws. This presents a prob­lem for the layper­son, who strug­gles to under­stand how New­ton­ian physics, with its pre­dictable obser­va­tions of phys­i­cal forces, relates to the par­al­lax and para­dox of lat­er dis­cov­er­ies. “If you don’t already know physics,” says physi­cist Dominic Wal­li­man in the video above, it’s dif­fi­cult some­times to see how all of these dif­fer­ent sub­jects are relat­ed to each oth­er.” So Wal­li­man has pro­vid­ed a help­ful visu­al aid: an ani­mat­ed video map show­ing the con­nec­tions between clas­si­cal physics, quan­tum physics, and rel­a­tiv­i­ty.

Newton’s laws of motion and grav­i­ta­tion and his inven­tion of cal­cu­lus best rep­re­sent the first domain. Here we see the insep­a­ra­ble rela­tion­ship between physics and math, “the bedrock that the world of physics is built from.” When we come to one of Newton’s less well-known pur­suits, optics, we see how his inter­est in light waves antic­i­pat­ed James Clerk Maxwell’s work on elec­tro­mag­net­ic fields. After this ini­tial con­nec­tion, the pro­lif­er­a­tion of sub­dis­ci­plines inten­si­fies: flu­id mechan­ics, chaos the­o­ry, ther­mo­dy­nam­ics… the guid­ing force of them all is the study of ener­gy in var­i­ous states. The heuris­tics of clas­si­cal physics pre­vailed, and worked per­fect­ly well, until about 1900, when the clock­work uni­verse of New­ton­ian mechan­ics explod­ed with new prob­lems, both at very large and very small lev­els of descrip­tion.

It is here that physics branch­es into rel­a­tiv­i­ty and quan­tum mechan­ics, which Wal­li­man explains in brief. While we are like­ly famil­iar with the very basics of Einstein’s rel­a­tiv­i­ty, quan­tum physics tends to get a lit­tle less cov­er­age in the typ­i­cal course of a gen­er­al edu­ca­tion, due to its com­plex­i­ty, per­haps, as well as the fact that at their edges, quan­tum expla­na­tions fail. While quan­tum field the­o­ry, says Wal­li­man, is “the best descrip­tion of the uni­verse we have,” once we come to quan­tum grav­i­ta­tion, we reach “the giant Chasm of Igno­rance” that spec­u­la­tive and con­tro­ver­sial ideas like string the­o­ry and loop quan­tum grav­i­ty attempt to bridge.


At the “Chasm of Igno­rance,” our jour­ney through the domains of physics ends, and we end up back in the airy realm where it all began, phi­los­o­phy. Those of us with a typ­i­cal gen­er­al edu­ca­tion in the sci­ences may find that we have a much bet­ter under­stand­ing of the field’s intel­lec­tu­al geog­ra­phy. As a handy reminder, you might even wish to pur­chase a poster copy of Walliman’s Map of Physics, which you can see en minia­ture above. (It’s also avail­able as a dig­i­tal down­load here.) Just below, the charm­ing, laid-back physi­cist takes the stage in a TEDx talk to demon­strate effec­tive sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tion, explain­ing “quan­tum physics for 7 year olds,” or, as it were, 37, 57, or 77-year olds. To learn more about physics, please don’t miss these essen­tial resources in our archive: Free Online Physics Cours­es and Free Physics Text­books

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Physics Cours­es, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

Physics & Caf­feine: Stop Motion Film Uses a Cup of Cof­fee to Explain Key Con­cepts in Physics

The Feyn­man Lec­tures on Physics, The Most Pop­u­lar Physics Book Ever Writ­ten, Now Com­plete­ly Online

Quan­tum Physics Made Rel­a­tive­ly Sim­ple: A Mini Course from Nobel Prize-Win­ning Physi­cist Hans Bethe

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (25)
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  • Richard Jones says:

    Great pre­sen­ta­tion. I wish you could cre­ate one that maps out the strengths and weak­ness­es of the more impor­tant inter­pre­ta­tions of quan­tum physics and how the new age writ­ers may stretch these to back up their attrac­tive but ques­tion­able spec­u­la­tions. Cheers!

  • Jo Anne says:

    Loved it!!!!

  • Elijah says:

    Awe­some! “Ani­ma­tion”

  • David T0ner says:

    Just Bril­liant! More please…my stu­dents will love it. Thank you.

  • John Morrison says:

    Excel­lent pre­sen­ta­tion. Look­ing for­ward to more like this.

  • Pam says:

    Love this! Is a print­ed map avail­able?

  • Margaret-Rose Stringer says:

    From a physics igno­ra­mus: won­der­ful stuff ! Tru­ly fas­ci­nat­ing.
    More, please …

  • Debbie Rees says:

    Excel­lent, thank you! Now I under­stand every­thing .…

  • “Quan­tum Physics is what Para­nor­mal Quan­tum Entan­gle­ment is made of” — Tom Zatar Kay

  • Bill W. says:

    I see The­ol­o­gy (the rea­son Har­vard and Yale were found­ed) was squeezed out of the pic­ture. Inter­est­ing.

  • Stephen Grey says:

    Video and ani­ma­tion works very well

  • Dunware says:

    I like this map. But what about this pic of the visu­al spec­trum. Why is there a blue light in the upper part? It is a very tiny thing in this great work but is ist pos­si­ble to change it?

  • ykurtz says:

    Very grate­ful you took the time to pull this togeth­er. One of my favorite books grow­ing up was ‘Think­ing Physics’ which tried to dis­till con­cepts into illus­tra­tions and asked ques­tions to see if you real­ly under­stood the con­cepts. Not sure where you’re going with this but I hope you con­tin­ue to pro­duce con­tent like this in the future. Thanks, again.

  • Goldiefishy says:

    Long retired from math­e­mat­ics, you’ve remind­ed me of how much I enjoyed the ah ha moment. I’m using the oth­er side of my brain now but enjoyed your pre­sen­ta­tions.

  • Al Labonis says:

    I liked your pre­sen­ta­tion on physics 101. I am par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in quon­tom physics. Dis­clamer, I do not have a back­ground in physics but am fas­ci­nat­ed in lean­ing about dark mat­ter. I read some­where that sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered that dark mat­ter has intel­li­gence. My thoughts on this dis­cov­ery is if we as humans are effect­ed by dark mat­ter. I would like to think that as these same quon­tom par­tic­u­lars pass through the uni­verse that we could be con­nect­ing to the very thing we are explor­ing. This is the first time that I have ever respond­ed to a site like this one but I felt led to ask you this ques­tion. It would be inter­est­ing to dis­cov­er if we are not only liv­ing in a vast uni­verse but that we are actu­al­ly an intra­gal part of the uni­verse.
    Thanks, Al

  • Jorge Villa says:

    Hi… I liked your ani­ma­tion. I would like an ani­ma­tion about mate­r­i­al sci­ence, maybe you can explain mate­ri­als from atom­ic point of view to dif­fer­ents inter­ac­tions between atoms and elec­trons. Thanks.

  • Lucia Gallego says:

    Loved the video! The ani­mat­ed pre­sen­ta­tion is great. Look­ing for­ward to see­ing more.

  • KM says:

    Do you have maps on
    grav­i­ta­tion­al waves
    dark mat­ter
    dark ener­gy
    before big bang

    would real­ly help us at McGill U class­es

  • Ravish K Jain says:

    Very nice­ly com­piled and pre­sent­ed

  • Chris Szymonski says:

    Loved it.
    Look­ing for­ward to many more pre­sen­ta­tions on things that pop­u­lar sci­ence mag­a­zines do not explain, e.g. how sci­en­tists mea­sure tem­per­a­tures of mil­lions of kelvins present in places in space; or, how the size of black holes is deter­mined, or, why a space­ship near­ing Sat­urn will ‘be crushed’ (since it is sub­merg­ing itself in gas which has a den­si­ty gra­di­ent, it should, even­tu­al­ly, float at some ele­va­tion, when aver­age den­si­ties match.)


  • Mary says:

    Love it! Thanks …

  • Andrew Russ says:

    Physi­cist, artist, and all-around Renais­sance man Bern Porter drew up a map of physics in 1939. It was cit­ed and repro­duced in the Jan­u­ary 2019 issue of Physics Today (p. 30–37), as rep­re­sent­ing an out­mod­ed view of physics, before the advent and rise of con­densed mat­ter physics (via sol­id state physics).

    The map was also print­ed as a fron­tispiece to one of the best­selling physics text­books co-authored by Marsh White (Col­lege Tech­ni­cal Physics, i believe, from McGraw-Hill).
    You can also see the map here:

    Bern Porter had quite a his­to­ry and along career, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the arts, dur­ing his 93-year-long life. Dur­ing World War II he had a small role in the Man­hat­tan Project (he found out what it was for the day after the bomb was used on Hiroshi­ma) and lat­er in the Apol­lo Project. Mean­while he claimed to have invent­ed mail art, hung out in Gertrude Stein’s salon in Paris, befriend­ed and then pub­lished Hen­ry Miller and Anais Nin, and went on to a long career as an avant-garde artist with “found poems” and many oth­er projects.

    and there’s more if you search.

  • ΦΑΙΔΩΝ ΧΑΛΚΙΑΣ/ Phaedon says:

    As a sci­ence teacher / with a physics degree, I’ ve to thank and con­gradu­late you for this ful­ly cov­er­age of the “Physics Quest”.

  • Ozmerelda says:

    Won­der­ful pre­sen­ta­tion! Keep on truck­ing down this road!

  • Anne Wells says:

    Won­der­ful! Nice tran­si­tions (both log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal) between the major com­po­nents. As a chemistry/math/physics major (long ago) whose inter­est now is in sort­ing out the var­i­ous new areas involv­ing par­ti­cle physics and dark mat­ter, well, would love to hear more on both. But this in no way takes away from the high qual­i­ty of this pre­sen­ta­tion!

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