When someone thinks about physics, they might imagine Albert Einstein or quantum particles or lasers. And they’d be right thinking that these are all related in some way or another―along with countless other topics. However, once they start their first physics course, and they start learning about falling objects or forces, they might be confused how any of this relates to what they actually want to learn. It gets even less clear when they are pursuing a degree in a seemingly unrelated field like the life sciences or computer science. However, learning physics teaches valuable problem solving skills and abstract thinking.
A common physics problem you might see in one of these intro classes is a ball dropping to the ground and how long it will take. At first you might have no idea where to begin, but after you solve a few more problems, you’ll get the hang of it. These kinds of problems require the student to translate the words into the “language” of physics. Usually this means scribbling something like “h=5m” on your paper which in English means that the height of the ball off the ground is 5 meters. This translation let’s the student make use of relevant equations or concepts. This idea of breaking a problem down into the essentials (values/variables) and figuring out how these essentials fit into the tools (equations/concepts) is useful in nearly all sciences.
Sometimes people joke about how idealistic and the physics world is, “solving” problems that require things to be perfectly spherical or frictionless or without air resistance. In reality, these are all complications that can be accounted for after the fact, and physics helps teach this idea. If you can figure out the core problem, you can alter it later to account for the side cases.
Besides those two reasons, having a basic understanding of kinematics and electromagnetism helps one understand the basics of how technology works. Everyday people are driving cars and using cell phones, without really thinking about how the engine causes a car to move or how Wi-Fi transmits data. For some people, the basics may satiate their curiosity; however, others may ask even more questions about the details of how these things work, in which case they could study more particular subjects such as mechanical engineering or electrical engineering.
Physics in general, helps teach the fundamentals of problem solving―breaking the problem down into smaller chunks and to translate the words into the essentials that can be used with the tools of physics, or any other science. People like Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, and Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, had their beginnings in physics and later took the skills they learned from physics and applied to other areas in the world.
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