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  • The Oxford dictionary defines physics as “the branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy,” but this rather dry definition doesn’t really do justice to the foundational importance of this discipline. Physics is the language that allows us to understand and describe the most fundamental forces governing the “physical” world on every scale, from the smallest subatomic particles to the structure of the entire universe.

    Consider Sir Isaac Newton, the founder of modern physics, as an example. You probably remember learning the story of Newton seeing an apple falling from a tree and then “discovering” the theory of gravity and the laws of motion from elementary school. It’s a simplified story, but it illustrates how essential and profound the insights generated by this discipline are. As such, physics is an incredibly powerful field of knowledge, with a range of applications that is perhaps unmatched in all the sciences.

    On a practical level, physics underpins our understanding of all forms of energy, enabling us to harness the power of electricity and burn fossil fuels to drive our cars and heat our homes. It also makes possible the feats of civic engineering and structural engineering that create our built environment, and the industrial engineering responsible for the design and production of the goods we use in daily life.

    Like Newton’s insights from the famous apple, other fruits of the study of physics are less obvious in our daily lives - but no less important. Astronomers use physics to understand the workings of stars, solar systems, and black holes, a truly remarkable achievement considering how distant and alien these celestial phenomena are from our perspective on Earth. At the other end of the spectrum, quantum physicists use a combination of theory and state-of-the-art laboratory equipment like CERN’s Large Hadron Collider to discover the properties that govern the inner workings of atoms, electromagnetism, and other forms of radiation.

    The scientists, engineers, and designers creating the technologies of the future will depend on physics as well. Whether it’s perfecting the self-driving car, generating virtually unlimited and emission-free electricity with nuclear fusion, or setting a course for Mars, the steady advance of our knowledge of physics will play a key role in making it possible.