The Story of Physics Animated in 4 Minutes: From Galileo and Newton, to Einstein

No mat­ter how well you remem­ber your physics class­es, you most like­ly don’t remem­ber learn­ing any sto­ries in them. The­o­ries and equa­tions, yes, but not sto­ries — yet each of those the­o­ries and equa­tions has a sto­ry behind it, as does the entire sci­en­tif­ic enter­prise of physics they con­sti­tute. The video above from the BBC’s Dara Ó Bri­ain’s Sci­ence Club pro­vides an overview of the lat­ter sto­ry in an ani­mat­ed four min­utes, mak­ing it ide­al for young­sters just start­ing to learn about physics. It will also do the job for those of us not-so-young­sters cir­cling back to get a bet­ter grasp of physics, its dis­cov­er­ies and dri­ving ques­tions.

“The sto­ry of physics is, for the most part, a tale of ever-increas­ing con­fi­dence,” says Ó Bri­ain, a come­di­an as well as a tele­vi­sion host and writer on var­i­ous sub­jects. This ver­sion of the sto­ry begins with rolling balls and falling objects, observed with a new rig­or by such 17th-cen­tu­ry Ital­ians as Galileo Galilei. Galileo’s work became “the rock on which mod­ern physics is found­ed,” and those who first built upon that rock includ­ed Isaac New­ton, who start­ed by notic­ing how apples fall and end­ed up with a the­o­ry of grav­i­ty. New­ton’s work would lat­er pre­dict the exis­tence of Nep­tune; James Clerk Maxwell, work­ing in the 19th cen­tu­ry, made dis­cov­er­ies about elec­tro­mag­net­ism that would lat­er give us radio and tele­vi­sion.

For quite a while, physics seemed to go from strength to strength. But as the 20th cen­tu­ry began, “the lat­est dis­cov­er­ies did­n’t build on the old ones. Things like x‑rays and radioac­tiv­i­ty were just plain weird, and in a bad way.” But in 1905, onto the scene came a 26-year-old Albert Ein­stein, who “tore up the script by” claim­ing that “light is a kind of wave but also comes in pack­ets, or par­ti­cles.” That same year he pub­lished an equa­tion you’ll cer­tain­ly remem­ber from your school days: E = mc2, which holds “that mass and ener­gy are equiv­a­lent.” Ein­stein pro­posed that, if “some­one watch­es a space­ship fly­ing very fast, what they would see is the ship’s clocks run­ning slow­er than their own watch — and the ship will actu­al­ly shrink in size. But for the astro­nauts inside, all would be nor­mal.”

In oth­er words, “time and space can change: they are rel­a­tive depend­ing on who’s observ­ing.” Ein­stein called this “spe­cial rel­a­tiv­i­ty,” and he also had a the­o­ry of “gen­er­al rel­a­tiv­i­ty.” That showed “how balls and apples weren’t the only thing sub­ject to grav­i­ty: light, time, and space were also affect­ed. Grav­i­ty slows down time and it warps space.” No mat­ter how dim­ly we under­stand physics itself, we all know the major play­ers in its sto­ry: Galileo and New­ton made impor­tant ear­ly dis­cov­er­ies, but it was Ein­stein who “shat­tered tra­di­tion­al physics” and revealed just how much we still have to learn about phys­i­cal real­i­ty. Still today, physi­cists labor to rec­on­cile Ein­stein’s dis­cov­er­ies with all oth­er known facts of that real­i­ty. As frus­trat­ing as that task often proves, the kids who take an inter­est of their own in physics after watch­ing the video will sure­ly be heart­ened to know that the sto­ry of physics goes on.

via The Kids Should See This

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Physics Cours­es (part of our larg­er col­lec­tion, 1,500 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties)

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

The Case for Study­ing Physics in a Charm­ing Ani­mat­ed Video

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, Is Now Com­plete­ly Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (3)
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  • Calief says:

    Are we still gonna pre­tend that African ppl did­n’t fig­ure this stuff out 1000’s of years b4 the Greeks stole the info?

  • Pope says:

    Sumer actu­al­ly is in Asia…

  • Linda Katz says:

    Poor­ly done video rewrites his­to­ry leav­ing out the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first per­son to win the Nobel prize twice includ­ing the Nobel Prize in Physics, Marie Curie. This video nev­er men­tions her name (or any oth­er female physi­cist) and insult­ing­ly describes M. Curie’s work as “X‑rays and radioac­tiv­i­ty were just plain weird and in a bad way.” before mov­ing on with its misog­y­nist retelling of the his­to­ry of physics.

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