Fundamentals of Physics

So many aspects of physics can be considered specialized, meaning you need to know a lot of that specific thing to understand it or reach further into it as a topic. Physics encompasses things as big as a black hole, or a collapsing star. Physics also encompasses microscopic occurrences such as splitting the atom to cause a nuclear explosion, and even smaller still with quarks, the building blocks of subatomic particles. There are however many topics in physics that you must know to further understand more specialized topics, this is known as fundamental physics. What kind of things are covered in fundamental physics? Let's find out.

Fundamentals of Physics Fundamentals of Physics

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Table of contents

    Fundamental Physics Definition

    If you can think of a force, be it throwing a ball or sticking a magnet onto the refrigerator, fundamental forces are involved. The definition of a fundamental force is as below:

    A fundamental force is any of the four basic forces (electromagnetic, gravitational, weak, or strong) that is responsible for any interaction between objects.

    Fundamental Forces in Physics

    These four forces are separated due to their differences in force strength, what can interact with them, and how far of a range they can affect.

    Gravitational Force

    The first of these forces is the gravitational force. It is a force that only affects bodies that possess mass, causing them to exert a force on any other bodies that possess mass as well. The gravitational force is always attractive, that is, all objects with mass will tend to move toward each other. For example, the Earth’s mass affects the Moon, causing it to orbit around us, but the Moon’s mass also affects the Earth, changing the tides and causing waves. The Earth is affecting the Moon a lot more due to the massive difference in mass.

    Fundamentals Gravitational field lines around Earth StudySmarter An image of Earth, showing the direction in which gravitational forces act upon it. Wikimedia Commons

    Electromagnetic Force

    The electromagnetic force is what affects all electric charges, the nature of their attraction and repulsion to one another, and why an electric charge is capable of forming a magnetic field in the right conditions. The electromagnetic force is far stronger than the gravitational force but acts on a much smaller scale.

    A magnetic field can be formed by running an electric current through a looped wire.

    Strong Force

    The strong force is more complicated, in the fact that it exclusively acts between particles on the atomic level. Even smaller than atoms, the building blocks that make them up are known as subatomic particles such as protons and neutrons, and even smaller still are quarks, the base building blocks that make up everything. These quarks are held together by the strong force, which in turn has their forces that aid in holding together the protons and neutrons that make up atoms as well.

    Fundamentals Strong nuclear force StudySmarterAn example of a nucleus with arrows showing the direction the strong force acts in to bind protons and neutrons together. Wikimedia Commons

    Weak Force

    The weak force is even more complicated still, being present in radioactivity, particularly as it decays but also in these radioactive processes present in the sun.

    Fundamental Laws of Physics

    In the universe, there are rules that all objects have to obey, no matter what, they are the rules of reality. These concepts are some of the most vital laws that affect us every day.

    The Laws of Motion

    The three laws of motion explain how bodies can move within this universe, as well as how their movement is governed by external forces, and how a body will move in reaction to these forces. These laws are attributed to Isaac Newton and are also known as Newton's laws of motion.

    1. The first law of motion is the law of inertia, which states that if a body or object has no forces acting on it at a given time, it will stay in motion if it is in motion, or it will stay at rest if it is at rest.

    2. The second law of motion states that if a resultant force is acting on an object, it is a product of both mass and acceleration, expressed as \(F=ma\).

    3. The third and final law of motion states that if body A is exerting a force onto body B, then body B will in turn produce a force equal in magnitude but opposite in direction upon body A.

    Electromagnetism affects our lives in many different ways, but at a base level, it describes how electric currents and magnetic fields are related. When an electric current flows, it will in turn produce a magnetic field. This magnetic field’s strength depends on the strength of the current and the number of loops in the coil of the wire that the electric current is flowing through.

    Electromagnetism’s most important feature in our lives is its help in creating the Earth’s magnetic field or magnetosphere. Through the electric current passing through molten iron in the Earth’s core, a massive magnetic field is generated around the entire planet, extending far into the atmosphere. This magnetic field protects us from many harmful things that occur in space, most commonly radiation emitted from our own Sun. Without this protection, the heat we would experience from this radiation would make the planet impossible to live on.

    The Laws of Thermodynamics

    The entire field of thermodynamics revolves around four laws, all of which describe in some way how energy and temperature behave and interact with one another.

    1. The first law of thermodynamics is simple, it states that energy can never be created or destroyed. It is only possible for energy to be converted into another form of energy.

    2. The second law states that if an energy conversion occurs involving heat energy, this conversion will be irreversible, and always tend towards a more disorganized form. This is also known as entropy.

    3. The third law states that this previously mentioned entropy within a system that involves the conversion of heat energy will reach an eventual constant value as the temperature in this system reaches absolute 0, also known as -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit.

    There is another law known as the zeroth law of thermodynamics. This law shows us that a system will always aim to achieve thermal equilibrium, which is the state of everything in the system being at an equal temperature.

    General Relativity is a very complicated topic that we could go into in great detail, but here we will describe it in a basic way, covering only the fundamental aspects of the concept.

    General Relativity describes how matter and energy give rise to gravity. It is, in essence, the study of space and time on a massive scale. It explores the concept of a so-called space-time that can be bent and curved by matter and forms the basis for modern-day cosmology.

    The theory of General Relativity was built upon the theory of Special Relativity which describes how physical quantities can be measured differently by observers in relative motion.

    You may have heard of Relativity having something to do with Albert Einstein, and it does! In 1905, Einstein proposed the idea of Special Relativity, and with it, the idea that light is the fastest anything could potentially travel in the universe.

    Fundamentals Albert Einstein StudySmarterThe man who proposed the idea of General and Special Relativity himself, Albert Einstein! Wikimedia Commons

    Fundamental Physics Equations

    If you know anything about physics, then you know there are usually equations involved in any topic. Thousands upon thousands of equations, but a lot less than that could be considered fundamental. Here are a few examples of fundamental equations:


    Speed is how long it takes something to travel a specific distance. Speed is calculated by:


    where \(v\) is speed, \(d\) is distance, and \(t\) represents time.


    Acceleration is the rate of change of speed, meaning how quickly something increases or decreases in speed. Acceleration is calculated by:


    where \(a\) is acceleration, \(v\) is the final velocity, \(u\) is the initial velocity, and \(t\) is the time.


    Weight is the force applied to bodies of mass by gravity. It is calculated by:


    where \(W\) is weight, \(m\) is mass, and \(g\) is the acceleration due to gravity.

    Ohms Law

    Ohms Law describes the relationship between voltage (potential difference), current, and resistance. The equation is:


    Where \(V\) is voltage, \(I\) is current, and \(R\) is resistance.


    Frequency is the number of complete wave cycles that can occur over a second. Frequency is calculated by:


    Where \(f\) is frequency, \(v\) is the speed of the wave, and \(\lambda\) is the wavelength of the wave.

    Fundamental Units in Physics

    When we think about the most important units in the field of physics, the first thing that comes to mind is the International System of Units, or SI units for short. These seven units are the main units used for their respective measurements, and all other units can be written as a combination of these units. The units are:

    • The \(\mathrm{meter}\) is the SI unit of \(\mathrm{length}\), with the symbol \(\mathrm{m}\).
    • The \(\mathrm{kilogram}\) is the SI unit of \(\mathrm{mass}\), with the symbol \(\mathrm{kg}\).
    • The \(\mathrm{second}\) is the SI unit of \(\mathrm{time}\), with the symbol \(\mathrm{s}\).
    • The \(\mathrm{ampere}\) is the SI unit of \(\mathrm{electric\:current}\), with the symbol \(\mathrm{A}\).
    • The \(\mathrm{kelvin}\) is the SI unit of \(\mathrm{temperature}\), with the symbol \(\mathrm{K}\).
    • The \(\mathrm{mole}\) is the SI unit for the \(\mathrm{amount\:of\:substance}\), with the symbol \(\mathrm{mol}\).
    • The \(\mathrm{candela}\) is the SI symbol of \(\mathrm{light\:intensity}\), with the symbol \(\mathrm{cd}\).

    Fundamentals - Key takeaways

    • There are four fundamental forces, gravitational, electromagnetic, strong, and weak force.

    • Each of these forces plays its part in the universe, the gravitational force occurs between any two bodies that have mass.

    • The electromagnetic force occurs in electric charges, and explains the attractive and repulsive forces between them.

    • The strong force binds subatomic particles together, and the weak force that occurs is present in the process of radioactive decay.

    • There are 3 laws of motion and they describe the behavior anybody can experience while engaging in motion.

    • The law of Electromagnetism explains how electric currents and magnetic fields relate to one another.

    • There are 4 laws of thermodynamics, all explaining how temperature and energy interact and behave.

    • General Relativity explains how events can differ depending on the perspective the event is being viewed upon.

    • There are many fundamental equations in physics, including ones for speed, acceleration, weight, ohms law, and frequency.

    • There are seven fundamental units, known as SI units, which are meters, kilograms, seconds, amperes, kelvin, moles, and candelas.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Fundamentals of Physics

    What is the fundamental physical quantity?

    A fundamental physical quantity is one of the 7 main factors we can measure. These are mass, length, time, current, temperature, the amount of a substance, and luminosity.

    What are the fundamental metric units of physics?

    The units for the fundamental quantities are kilograms for mass, meters for length, seconds for time, amperes for current, kelvin for temperature, moles for the amount of a substance, and candelas for luminosity.

    What are the 4 fundamental forces of physics?

    The four fundamental forces in physics are the gravitational force, the electromagnetics force, the strong force, and the weak force.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Can a scalar unit ever be negative?

    The conversion factor to convert meters into kilometers is...

    Convert 10 \(\text{lb}\) into \(\text{kg}\). (\(1\text{ kg (kilogram)} = 2.20462\text{ lb (pounds)}\))


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