Section Summary

1.1 Physics: An Introduction

  • Science seeks to discover and describe the underlying order and simplicity in nature.
  • Physics is the most basic of the sciences, concerning itself with energy, matter, space and time, and their interactions.
  • Scientific laws and theories express the general truths of nature and the body of knowledge they encompass. These laws of nature are rules that all natural processes appear to follow.

1.2 Physical Quantities and Units

  • Physical quantities are a characteristic or property of an object that can be measured or calculated from other measurements.
  • Units are standards for expressing and comparing the measurement of physical quantities. All units can be expressed as combinations of four fundamental units.
  • The four fundamental units we will use in this text are the meter (for length), the kilogram (for mass), the second (for time), and the ampere (for electric current). These units are part of the metric system, which uses powers of 10 to relate quantities over the vast ranges encountered in nature.
  • The four fundamental units are abbreviated as follows: meter, m; kilogram, kg; second, s; and ampere, A. The metric system also uses a standard set of prefixes to denote each order of magnitude greater than or lesser than the fundamental unit itself.
  • Unit conversions involve changing a value expressed in one type of unit to another type of unit. This is done by using conversion factors, which are ratios relating equal quantities of different units.

1.3 Accuracy, Precision, and Significant Figures

  • Accuracy of a measured value refers to how close a measurement is to the correct value. The uncertainty in a measurement is an estimate of the amount by which the measurement result may differ from this value.
  • Precision of measured values refers to how close the agreement is between repeated measurements.
  • The precision of a measuring tool is related to the size of its measurement increments. The smaller the measurement increment, the more precise the tool.
  • Significant figures express the precision of a measuring tool.
  • When multiplying or dividing measured values, the final answer can contain only as many significant figures as the least precise value.
  • When adding or subtracting measured values, the final answer cannot contain more decimal places than the least precise value.

1.4 Approximation

Scientists often approximate the values of quantities to perform calculations and analyze systems.