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

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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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