History of physics

A.Y. 2020/2021
Overall hours
Learning objectives
The aim of this course is to introduce the main themes of the History of theoretical and experimental Physics from the Hellenic time until the mid-20th century. The course will also address the role of History of Physics in Physics Education, the links with some aspects of Philosophy of Science, and themes concerning the cultural heritage such as the scientific instruments on exhibition in museum collections and the historical-scientific information supports.
Expected learning outcomes
At the end of the course the student is expected to have the following skills:
1. Knowledge about the main themes of Philosophy of Science, in particular: inductive and deductive reasoning, falsificationism, scientific explanation, realism.
2. Ability to describe the main aspects of Hellenic and Hellenistic phyics and astronomy.
3. Ability to describe the main aspects of physics during the Scholasticism and the Renaissance with Copernicus' astronomy.
4. Ability to describe the main aspects of the Scientific Revolution, contributions to physics and astronomy by Galileo, Kepler and Newton.
5. Ability to describe the main aspects of the historical development of Classical Mechanics: Newtonian mechanics, conservation laws, minimum principles.
6. Ability to describe the main aspects of particle and wave optics.
7. Ability to describe the main aspects of the studies on electricity and magntism, and on the development of the electromagnetic theories.
8. Ability to describe the main aspects of the studies on thermal phenomena and the devlopment of Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics.
9. Ability to describe the main aspects of the origins of Quantum Physics, the development of a quantum theory, atomic, nuclear and sub-nuclear physics, and Quantum Mechanics.
10. Ability to describe the main aspects of the origins of Relativity physics and the development of astrophysical and cosmological theories.
11. Ability to describe the genesis of the main physical theories.
12. Ability to describe the main links between different contemporary physical theories and their respective influences.
13. Ability to describe the main types of sources on which historiographical research is based for the various periods and the main conservation problems.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
First semester
Lessons will be given entirely online with synchronous mode in zoom virtual classrooms in the event of a health emergency. The virtual classrooms will be indicated on Ariel. Visits to museum will be suspended.
Course syllabus
1) Elements of Philosophy of Science
Science and pseudo-science. Deduction and induction. Hume's problem. Inference to the best explanation. Probability and induction. Hempel's covering law model. Symmetry and irrelevance problems. Explanation and causality. Explanation and reduction. Scientific realism and anti-realism. Observability. Underdetermination.
2) Physics in the Classical Age
Aristotle's theory of causes and the classification of the presocratic natural philosophers. Pythagorean physics. Hellenic atomism. Aristotelian mechanics. Archimedes' physics. Aristotelian cosmology. Aristarchus' heliocentrism. The measurement of the Earth. Ptolemaic astronomy.
3) Middle Age and Renaissance Physics
Arabic and Western physics. The impetus theory. The Copernican system. The Tychonic system. Kepler's celestial mechanics.
4) The Scientific Revolution
Historiography and criticism on the Scientific Revolution. Cartesian cosmology.
5) Galilei's Physics
Galilei's instruments. Mathematics and measurement. Galilei's Copernicanism. The Starry Messenger and the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. The free fall motion. The Discourses on Two New Sciences.
6) Newtonian Physics
Newtonian science in the alchemic and religious context. Newton's theoretical procedures. The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. Space, time, movement. The matter-force dualism. The motion laws. Newton's gravitation. The hidden properties of matter. Newton's optics. Hooke's optics. Huygens' physics. The measurement of the speed of light.
7) Post-newtonian mechanics
The conservation of the momentum. Kinetic and potential energy. The conservation of energy. The conservation of the moment of the momentum. The action. Hamilton's mechanics. Lagrange's mechanics.
8) Fluids and fields physics
Post-newtonian optics. The aether. The electric fluid. The magnetic fluid. Electrostatics. Electrodynamics. The field. Electromagnetic induction. Electromagnetic unification. Maxwellian electromagnetism. Electromagnetic optics.
9) Thermodynamics
The first law of thermodynamics. The second law of thermodynamics. The kinetic theory of gases. Boltzmann's and Gibbs' statistical mechanics.
10) The transition towards modern physics
Spectroscopy. Black-body radiation. Planck's quantum of action. Einstein's quantum of energy. Chemical and physical atomic models in the XIX century. Cathode rays. The electron. The X rays. Radioactivity. The structure of the nuclear atom.
11) The theory of relativity
The theory of special relativity. The speed of light. The space-time. The theory of general relativity. Gravitation and acceleration.
12) The atomic theory
Rutherford's planetary atom. Atomism and spectroscopy. Bohr's atom.
13) Quantum mechanics
Wave-particle dualism. The uncertainty principle. Matrix mechanics and wave mechanics. Schrödinger's wave equation. Dirac's relativistic wave equation. Quantum electrodynamics.
14) Nuclear and elementary particles physics
The properties of the atomic nucleus. Radioactivity and nuclear stability. Nuclear models. Artificial radioactivity. Nuclear fission. Nuclear fusion. Elementary particles: electron, neutron, muon, pion. The neutrino. The quarks. The standard model.
15) Cosmology
The Galaxy. Receding galaxies. Stars evolution. The expansion of the universe. The Big Bang model.
Prerequisites for admission
There are no prerequisites.
Teaching methods
Frontal lessons in the classroom. At the end of the teaching there are a couple of optional visits to museums with collections of physics instruments.
Attendance at lessons is strongly recommended.
Teaching Resources
Allori et al.: "La natura delle cose" (Carocci)
Arons: "Guida all'insegnamento della fisica" (Zanichelli)
Beretta: "Storia materiale della scienza" (Bruno Mondadori)
Buchwald, Fox: "The Oxford Handbook of the History of Physics" (Oxford University Press)
Henry: "A Short History of Scientific Thought" (Palgrave MacMillan)
Motz, Weaver: "The Story of Physics" (Plenum Press)
Okasha: "Il primo libro di filosofia della scienza" (Einaudi)
Assessment methods and Criteria
The exam is oral and consists of three parts:
1) a question on the main types of scientific reasoning with examples taken from the student's course of study; the clarity of the definition of the types of scientific reasoning and the adequacy of the examples presented will be assessed.
2) two questions on the history of physics topics covered in class: a synthetic presentation (approximately 15 minutes per question) of a chapter taken from the first part of the textbook and a chapter taken from the second part is requested; exhibition clarity, the ability to summarize, the correctness of historical information and scientific contents will be assessed.
3) the presentation in about 30 minutes by the student of a text chosen by the student and agreed with the professor; the questions in part 2) of the exam will not focus on the topics covered in this in-depth part. The clarity of exhibition and understanding of the main topics covered in the chosen text will be assessed. The final vote is out of thirty points.
Lessons: 42 hours
Professor: Gariboldi Leonardo
Educational website(s)