For faster navigation, this Iframe is preloading the Wikiwand page for Modern physics.

Modern physics

Classical physics is usually concerned with everyday conditions: speeds are much lower than the speed of light, sizes are much greater than that of atoms, yet very small in astronomical terms. Modern physics, however, is concerned with high velocities, small distances, and very large energies.

Modern physics is a branch of physics that developed in the early 20th century and onward or branches greatly influenced by early 20th century physics. Notable branches of modern physics include quantum mechanics, special relativity and general relativity.

Classical physics is typically concerned with everyday conditions: speeds are much lower than the speed of light, sizes are much greater than that of atoms, and energies are relatively small. Modern physics, however, is concerned with more extreme conditions, such as high velocities that are comparable to the speed of light (special relativity), small distances comparable to the atomic radius (quantum mechanics), and very high energies (relativity). In general, quantum and relativistic effects are believed to exist across all scales, although these effects may be very small at human scale. While quantum mechanics is compatible with special relativity (See: Relativistic quantum mechanics), one of the unsolved problems in physics is the unification of quantum mechanics and general relativity, which the Standard Model of particle physics currently cannot account for.

Modern physics is an effort to understand the underlying processes of the interactions of matter using the tools of science & engineering. In a literal sense, the term modern physics means up-to-date physics. In this sense, a significant portion of so-called classical physics is modern.[1] However, since roughly 1890, new discoveries have caused significant paradigm shifts:[1] especially the advent of quantum mechanics (QM) and relativity (ER). Physics that incorporates elements of either QM or ER (or both) is said to be modern physics. It is in this latter sense that the term is generally used.[1]

Modern physics is often encountered when dealing with extreme conditions. Quantum mechanical effects tend to appear when dealing with "lows" (low temperatures, small distances), while relativistic effects tend to appear when dealing with "highs" (high velocities, large distances), the "middles" being classical behavior. For example, when analyzing the behavior of a gas at room temperature, most phenomena will involve the (classical) Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution. However near absolute zero, the Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution fails to account for the observed behavior of the gas, and the (modern) Fermi–Dirac or Bose–Einstein distributions have to be used instead.

German physicists Albert Einstein (1879–1955), founder of the theory of relativity, and Max Planck (1858–1947), founder of quantum theory

Very often, it is possible to find – or "retrieve" – the classical behavior from the modern description by analyzing the modern description at low speeds and large distances (by taking a limit, or by making an approximation). When doing so, the result is called the classical limit.

Classical physics (Rayleigh–Jeans law, black line) failed to explain black-body radiation – the so-called ultraviolet catastrophe. The quantum description (Planck's law, colored lines) is said to be modern physics.


These are generally considered to be the topics regarded as the "core" of the foundation of modern physics:

See also


  • A. Beiser (2003). Concepts of Modern Physics (6th ed.). McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-123460-3.
  • P. Tipler, R. Llewellyn (2002). Modern Physics (4th ed.). W. H. Freeman. ISBN 978-0-7167-4345-3.


  1. ^ a b c F. K. Richtmyer; E. H. Kennard; T. Lauristen (1955). Introduction to Modern Physics (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 1. LCCN 55006862.
{{bottomLinkPreText}} {{bottomLinkText}}
Modern physics
Listen to this article

This browser is not supported by Wikiwand :(
Wikiwand requires a browser with modern capabilities in order to provide you with the best reading experience.
Please download and use one of the following browsers:

This article was just edited, click to reload
This article has been deleted on Wikipedia (Why?)

Back to homepage

Please click Add in the dialog above
Please click Allow in the top-left corner,
then click Install Now in the dialog
Please click Open in the download dialog,
then click Install
Please click the "Downloads" icon in the Safari toolbar, open the first download in the list,
then click Install

Install Wikiwand

Install on Chrome Install on Firefox
Don't forget to rate us

Tell your friends about Wikiwand!

Gmail Facebook Twitter Link

Enjoying Wikiwand?

Tell your friends and spread the love:
Share on Gmail Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Buffer

Our magic isn't perfect

You can help our automatic cover photo selection by reporting an unsuitable photo.

This photo is visually disturbing This photo is not a good choice

Thank you for helping!

Your input will affect cover photo selection, along with input from other users.


Get ready for Wikiwand 2.0 🎉! the new version arrives on September 1st! Don't want to wait?