PHYSICS:  A  UNIFYING  FRAMEWORK IN  THE  DEVPT  OF  SCIENCE  &  TECHNOLOGY

MANILA, MAY 29, 2009 (STAR) STAR SCIENCE By Felixberto A. Buot, Ph.D. - (First of a series)

The following lines are intended to attract young Filipino students to consider physics as a research and/or academic career or as a preparation for other professional careers of interest, including humanities, politics, and social sciences.

The scope of physics discipline

Physics is the most mathematical and most fundamental of all natural sciences. It is the most theoretical of all natural sciences, and is also the discipline where the largest financial support worldwide is incurred so far for experimental research work, to verify advanced theoretical concepts. Physics concepts provide the foundation for all other sciences, as well as the engineering disciplines. The theoretical structures of physics, derived from the understanding of natural phenomena through mathematical logic, are immensely powerful. Physics concepts deal with phenomena that range from smallest scale, i.e., below 6.0x10-11 meters or 2.43x10-12 meters in subatomic physics down to Planck’s scale (about 1.62x10-35 meters) in black hole and string physics, to the large-scale structure of the universe whose exact dimension is still undefined. In several instances, theoretical predictions (the power of logical thought and imagination) in physics precede their experimental verifications and/or lead to various revolutionary inventions, by virtue of the fact that physics is closely linked to mathematical logic. For example, the invention of transistors and solid-state and atomic lasers is guided through the knowledge gained from the energy-band quantum theory in solid-state physics and atomic energy levels.

Indeed, physics and mathematics have been synergetic at various stages of their developments, such as in the development of calculus, group theories, in the developments of topology, namely differential geometry, fiber-bundle theory, braid groups and knot theory, etc. In fact, advanced developments in pure mathematics, being intertwined with developments in theoretical physics, have found powerful applications and become a natural language in physics, such as in the abstract theory of Lie groups and its extensions, namely Kac-Moody and Virasoro algebras, in the theory of a finite simple group with 8x1053 elements referred to as monster (potential formal language of four-dimensional string theory), including in general the Langsland Program in pure mathematics concerning number theory, harmonic analysis, group theory and group representations. Physics has always played as a major motivator for the advancement of novel and powerful mathematics, in the recent development of Kac-Moody algebra which is relevant to conformal field theory and string theories of forces and elementary particle physics, including the development of monster group based on vertex operators originally developed for soliton theory in physics. Solitons are localized disturbances which propagate without change of form; an example is that of a solitary wave in a water canal, hence the name “soliton.”

It is worth mentioning that theoretical investigation of solitons has proceeded alongside the search for their applications in the description of numerous processes and phenomena in physics and biology. In physics, the investigation is wide ranging, from applied mathematics (integrable systems, applications to fluid mechanics etc), through pure mathematics (monopoles, classification of manifolds), to mathematical and theoretical physics, namely particle and nuclear physics (monopoles and skyrmions), solid-state physics (vortices in superconductors, planar skyrmions in the quantum-Hall effect), phase transitions, magnetostatics and ferromagnetodynamics (magnetic bubbles), cosmology (cosmic strings, domain walls), etc.

In biology, applications of solitons include charge and energy transport in metabolic processors in photosynthesis, and in systems involving biopolymers or carbon nanotubes. Recently, Danish physicists working with biologists have challenged the accepted scientific views of how nerves function and of how anesthetics work. Their research suggests that action of nerves is based on sound pulses or solitons, and that anesthetics simply inhibit the transmission of these sound pulses.

Whereas experiments are limited by the capability of present-day instrumentation, the power of thought does not seem to be limited by the inexhaustible imagination of bright individuals and future generations searching for truth through mathematical logic.

(To be continued)

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Dr. Felixberto A. Buot is a research physicist (retired) from the US Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C. He is currently a research professor at the Center for Computational Materials Science, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. He is a fellow of the Washington Academy of Sciences, and a senior member of IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). He is the guest editor of a special issue of the Journal of Computational and Theoretical Nanoscience on “Transport Physics of Low-Dimensional Systems, Mesoscopic Structures and Nanodevices: Theory, Modeling, and Simulation” (American Scientific Publishers, August 2009 issue). He authored a new book entitled “Nonequilibrium Quantum Transport Physics in Nanosystems” with subtitle “Foundation of Computational Nonequilibrium Physics in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology” (World Scientific Publishing Co., July 2009). E-mail him at fbuot@gmu.edu.


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