Classical physics includes the traditional branches and topics that were recognized and fairly well developed before the beginning of the 20th cent.—mechanics, sound, light, heat, and electricity and magnetism. Mechanics is concerned with bodies acted on by forces and bodies in motion and may be divided into statics (study of the forces on a body or bodies at rest), kinematics (study of motion without regard to its causes), and dynamics (study of motion and the forces that affect it); mechanics may also be divided into solid mechanics and fluid mechanics, the latter including such branches as hydrostatics, hydrodynamics, aerodynamics, and pneumatics. Acoustics, the study of sound, is often considered a branch of mechanics because sound is due to the motions of the particles of air or other medium through which sound waves can travel and thus can be explained in terms of the laws of mechanics. Among the important modern branches of acoustics is ultrasonics, the study of sound waves of very high frequency, beyond the range of human hearing. Optics, the study of light, is concerned not only with visible light but also with infrared and ultraviolet radiation, which exhibit all of the phenomena of visible light except visibility, e.g., reflection, refraction, interference, diffraction, dispersion (see spectrum), and polarization of light. Heat is a form of energy, the internal energy possessed by the particles of which a substance is composed; thermodynamics deals with the relationships between heat and other forms of energy. Electricity and magnetism have been studied as a single branch of physics since the intimate connection between them was discovered in the early 19th cent.; an electric current gives rise to a magnetic field and a changing magnetic field induces an electric current. Electrostatics deals with electric charges at rest, electrodynamics with moving charges, and magnetostatics with magnetic poles at rest.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.