Physics: The First Science

By Peter Lindenfeld; Suzanne White Brahmia | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3

There Is No Rest: Describing Motion
Getting started: simplification and approximation: modelsKeep your eye on the ball: where is it and where is it going?
How far? Distance and displacement
How fast? Speed, velocity, and acceleration
Constant velocity
Changing velocity: constant acceleration
The mathematics of change
Slopes and derivatives
Areas and integrals

There was a time when physics meant mechanics, and perhaps it should
still. The word comes from the Greek for machine. We understand a piece of
machinery when we know each of its parts, all the gears and levers, and their
functions and interplay. That’s really the program of all of natural science, to
know the pieces of which the world is made and how they connect and work
together.

The world is more complicated than any machine, and knowing it and under-
standing it is a work in progress. We learn more each day, we get to know some
parts very well, but there is no end to the quest. We continue to be surprised by
what we learn, sometimes by the complexity and intricacy, sometimes by the
simplicity of the way in which the components act and interact.

The term mechanics has come to be used in a more restricted sense, as the
science of motion and of the way that forces bring about motion. To start with, we
will limit ourselves further by leaving out, at one end of the scale, the atoms and
their constituents, and at the other end the stars and other massive astronomical
objects, because they behave, in part, in ways that are different and outside
our day-to-day experience. That leaves us with classical mechanics, the study
of the realm between, the ordinary world of chairs and tables, baseballs and
bullets.

We will look at the basic concepts that we need to describe motion, namely
displacement, speed and velocity, and acceleration.

-33-

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