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Isaac Physics

Curious Physics – Problem Solving

Expect the unexpected, predict the unpredictable. Physics is the science which helps us to understand everything around us, from the tiniest particles through to the infinite (or not) Universe.

Isaac BucketsFundamentally, physicists are problem solvers! When presented with a puzzle, we use the skills we have practised to solve a huge variety of problems, from building more efficient solar panels to solve the world's energy crisis, to the latest mobile devices that use up some of that energy.  Being an expert problem solver allows us to approach curious problems and explain the unexpected or predict the unpredictable.

In our talk, we will demonstrate to you how by simply applying Physics you already know from school, you can solve some seemingly crazy problems. For example, this “gravity-defying” table, the Mould Effect ( ), when a string of beads seems to jump out of a glass, and the Magnus Effect ( ) - the Physics that David Beckham used to “bend it like Beckham”.

Being able to explain these questions by applying your physics knowledge isn’t always easy.  However, it becomes easier the more problems you solve, and to become an expert problem solver takes practice. It is a bit like training for a marathon, do a little bit of training every day and you will succeed.  Do a little bit of problem-solving every day, and you will be able to explain these amazing effects! ( ) is here to help! We have thousands of FREE physics problems of varying difficulties to take you from your GCSE all the way through to university.  Working on these problems will help you on your journey to mastering physics.  Work through our standard problems first and then have a go at our extraordinary problems on rainbows, tennis or chain fountains. 

Remember that, as with any training, some days will be harder than others, it is OK to get the answer wrong the first time around (in fact we actually encourage it).  All physicists get things wrong, making mistakes is how big discoveries are made and Nobel prizes won. The more you put into physics, the more surprises and rewards it will give in return.

Physics is real, relevant and remarkable!

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Practice your problem solving skills by answering A Misbehaving Student ( ) on A good way to start looking at all Physics problems is to:

  1. Look at the problem and find the goal of the problem: Will the student break the table?
  2. Draw a diagram of the situation: in this case, you will want to draw the forces acting on each object; the table top, the student, and the table legs. And don’t forget to label ALL the forces on your diagram!
  3. Identify the relevant physics concepts and useful equations, and what we can neglect: Is the table in equilibrium? Do Newton’s laws of gravity apply? Do we need to consider Hooke’s Law? Do we need to consider moments?
  4. Work out the solution: work logically through the problem writing down each step, otherwise it is very easy to make mistakes. Even the most experienced physicists do!
  5. Now check your working: do the units match? Does the result seem reasonable? What would happen if the student were 100 kg?
  6. Correct? Sit back and enjoy the satisfaction of having solved a problem!

Further Reading