Why Physics?

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

Why why did I choose to study physics at undergrad?

I don't want to be totally clique, because I was late to the game with being a geek. I wasn't one of those kids who always excelled at school or was naturally really good at math, I was quite the opposite actually. In fact, when I was younger, I wanted to be a vet, a marine biologist, or a conservationist. I loved animals and was drawn to the natural world and animals in that way. So what made me want to pursue a career in physics? Physics is basically applied mathematics .. so why would I take a subject I am not 'naturally' gifted at, or had any interest in as a child?

"I realised that physics describes not only cool space stuff, but actually, everything, and at a much deeper, more fundamental level."

The first time 'physics' or space sparked my fancy, was actually through watching Brian Cox episodes on BBC. I told you there was a clique, but read on, it does get more rooted than this I promise.. But Brian, as I'm sure many of you know, has a way with explaining things and making physics interesting, which I had never experienced before. Maths always made me feel super uncomfortable and to be quite frank, it made me feel stupid. So when I heard Brian talking (and understandably so) about the natural world in terms of physics, how wondrous and amazing it is, I was drawn in and I wanted to know more. This is also why I myself am working to become a successful science communicator - science communication got me involved, and I am so grateful and want to do the same. It was this initial spark that got me thinking about science and maths again, and to take it more seriously at GCSE level. I tried really hard and through my GCSEs, I realised that physics is the one that describes not only cool space stuff, but actually, everything, and at a much deeper, more fundamental level. I realised it wasn't the math that made me feel stupid. It's just an initial uncomfortable feeling that you get when you don't understand something at first.. and why would we understand these things first time - they're hard! and that's OK! It just means spending a little more time on them to get good at it! I wish I knew this, but it took me 4 years of my degree to realise, it OK to feel stupid. It's all part of the learning process. Just don't give up!

"I wanted to know everything."

Here comes the clique. As a kid, I always asked my parents deep questions, which might not seem deep but actually are quiet complex and deeply rooted physical phenomena, like, how do rainbows form, and what happens if I swing too much on the swings? Even things like, why do trains look slow when they're actually moving at a similar speed to us? This is what got me hooked. I realised the things I was questioning were related to some of the most amazing (and actually complex) physics theories like Einstein's theory of Special Relativity and terms like 'escape velocity'.. If I did in fact swing hard enough and reached this escape velocity, I could escape the Earth's atmosphere and 'take off' into space, but don't worry, without a lot of force, this is really hard to do and something we actually call 'Rocket Science'! I know right, hooked.

"Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves"

I also learned it was a great subject to access other avenues like technology, computer science and engineering. So if my interests changed, I'd be pretty safe. I went from hating maths, to using it in really cool physics and mechanics classes, and decided to take Physics, Maths and Geography at A-Level, which lead to me taking Physics as a degree at University. I chose physics because, it's damn interesting and although the math and programming is hard, once you crack it, you've unlocked a little bit about the Universe that you didn't know before, and that is beyond rewarding!! I wanted to know everything, and physics is basically a subject that describes real life phenomena using theory, experimentation, mathematics and observations to prove what reality really is. If you literally google the definition of physics, you get this: 'Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves'. Once I realised this, it was hard to find another subject as interesting.

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Alice Eleanor Matthews Blog @astroally.co.uk

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