# 1.1: Introduction

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\(\newcommand{\avec}{\mathbf a}\) \(\newcommand{\bvec}{\mathbf b}\) \(\newcommand{\cvec}{\mathbf c}\) \(\newcommand{\dvec}{\mathbf d}\) \(\newcommand{\dtil}{\widetilde{\mathbf d}}\) \(\newcommand{\evec}{\mathbf e}\) \(\newcommand{\fvec}{\mathbf f}\) \(\newcommand{\nvec}{\mathbf n}\) \(\newcommand{\pvec}{\mathbf p}\) \(\newcommand{\qvec}{\mathbf q}\) \(\newcommand{\svec}{\mathbf s}\) \(\newcommand{\tvec}{\mathbf t}\) \(\newcommand{\uvec}{\mathbf u}\) \(\newcommand{\vvec}{\mathbf v}\) \(\newcommand{\wvec}{\mathbf w}\) \(\newcommand{\xvec}{\mathbf x}\) \(\newcommand{\yvec}{\mathbf y}\) \(\newcommand{\zvec}{\mathbf z}\) \(\newcommand{\rvec}{\mathbf r}\) \(\newcommand{\mvec}{\mathbf m}\) \(\newcommand{\zerovec}{\mathbf 0}\) \(\newcommand{\onevec}{\mathbf 1}\) \(\newcommand{\real}{\mathbb R}\) \(\newcommand{\twovec}[2]{\left[\begin{array}{r}#1 \\ #2 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\ctwovec}[2]{\left[\begin{array}{c}#1 \\ #2 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\threevec}[3]{\left[\begin{array}{r}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\cthreevec}[3]{\left[\begin{array}{c}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\fourvec}[4]{\left[\begin{array}{r}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \\ #4 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\cfourvec}[4]{\left[\begin{array}{c}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \\ #4 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\fivevec}[5]{\left[\begin{array}{r}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \\ #4 \\ #5 \\ \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\cfivevec}[5]{\left[\begin{array}{c}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \\ #4 \\ #5 \\ \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\mattwo}[4]{\left[\begin{array}{rr}#1 \amp #2 \\ #3 \amp #4 \\ \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\laspan}[1]{\text{Span}\{#1\}}\) \(\newcommand{\bcal}{\cal B}\) \(\newcommand{\ccal}{\cal C}\) \(\newcommand{\scal}{\cal S}\) \(\newcommand{\wcal}{\cal W}\) \(\newcommand{\ecal}{\cal E}\) \(\newcommand{\coords}[2]{\left\{#1\right\}_{#2}}\) \(\newcommand{\gray}[1]{\color{gray}{#1}}\) \(\newcommand{\lgray}[1]{\color{lightgray}{#1}}\) \(\newcommand{\rank}{\operatorname{rank}}\) \(\newcommand{\row}{\text{Row}}\) \(\newcommand{\col}{\text{Col}}\) \(\renewcommand{\row}{\text{Row}}\) \(\newcommand{\nul}{\text{Nul}}\) \(\newcommand{\var}{\text{Var}}\) \(\newcommand{\corr}{\text{corr}}\) \(\newcommand{\len}[1]{\left|#1\right|}\) \(\newcommand{\bbar}{\overline{\bvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\bhat}{\widehat{\bvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\bperp}{\bvec^\perp}\) \(\newcommand{\xhat}{\widehat{\xvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\vhat}{\widehat{\vvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\uhat}{\widehat{\uvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\what}{\widehat{\wvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\Sighat}{\widehat{\Sigma}}\) \(\newcommand{\lt}{<}\) \(\newcommand{\gt}{>}\) \(\newcommand{\amp}{&}\) \(\definecolor{fillinmathshade}{gray}{0.9}\)Classical mechanics is the branch of physics that deals with the study of the motion of anything (roughly speaking) larger than an atom or a molecule. That is a lot of territory, and the methods and concepts of classical mechanics are at the foundation of any branch of science or engineering that is concerned with the motion of anything from a star to an amoeba—fluids, rocks, animals, planets, and any and all kinds of machines. Moreover, even though the accurate description of processes at the atomic level requires the (formally very different) methods of quantum mechanics, at least three of the basic concepts of classical mechanics that we are going to study this semester, namely, momentum, energy, and angular momentum, carry over into quantum mechanics as well, with the last two playing, in fact, an essential role.

## Particles in Classical Mechanics

In the study of motion, the most basic starting point is the concept of the *position* of an object. Clearly, if we want to describe accurately the position of a macroscopic object such as a car, we may need a lot of information, including the precise shape of the car, whether it is turned this way or that way, and so on; however, if all we want to know is how far the car is from Fort Smith or Fayetteville, we do not need any of that: we can just treat the car as a dot, or mathematical point, on the map—which is the way your GPS screen will show it, anyway. When we do this, we say that are describing the car (or whatever the macroscopic object may be) as a **particle**.

In classical mechanics, an “ideal” particle is an object with no appreciable size—a mathematical point. In one dimension (that is to say, along a straight line), its position can be specified just by giving a single number, the distance from some reference point, as we shall see in a moment (in three dimensions, of course, three numbers are required). In terms of energy (which is perhaps the most important concept in all of physics, and which we will introduce properly in due course), an ideal particle has only one kind of energy, what we will later call *translational kinetic energy*; it cannot have, for instance, rotational kinetic energy (since it has “no shape” for practical purposes), or any form of internal energy (elastic, thermal, etc.), since we assume it is too small to have any internal structure in the first place.

The reason this is a useful concept is not just that we can often treat extended objects as particles in an approximate way (like the car in the example above), but also, and most importantly, that if we want to be more precise in our calculations, *we can always treat an extended object (mathematically) as a collection of “particles.”* The physical properties of the object, such as its energy, momentum, rotational inertia, and so forth, can then be obtained by adding up the corresponding quantities for all the particles making up the object. Not only that, but the interactions between two extended objects can also be calculated by adding up the interactions between all the particles making up the two objects. This is how, once we know the form of the gravitational force between two particles (which is fairly simple, as we will see in Chapter 10), we can use that to calculate the force of gravity between a planet and its satellites, which can be fairly complicated in detail, depending, for instance, on the relative orientation of the planet and the satellite.

The mathematical tool we use to calculate these “sums” is *calculus*—specifically, integration—and you will see many examples of this... in your calculus courses. Calculus I is only a corequisite for this course, so we will not make a lot of use of it here, and in any case you would need multidimensional integrals, which are an even more advanced subject, to do these kinds of calculations. But it may be good for you to keep these ideas on the back of your mind. Calculus was, in fact, invented by Sir Isaac Newton precisely for this purpose, and the developments of physics and mathematics have been closely linked together ever since.

Anyway, back to particles, the plan for this semester is as follows: we will start our description of motion by treating every object (even fairly large ones, such as cars) as a “particle,” because we will only be concerned at first with its translational motion and the corresponding energy. Then we will progressively make things more complex: by considering systems of two or more particles, we will start to deal with the *internal energy* of a system. Then we will move to the study of *rigid bodies*, which are another important idealization: extended objects whose parts all move together as the object undergoes a translation or a rotation. This will allow us to introduce the concept of rotational kinetic energy. Eventually we will consider *wave motion*, where different parts of an extended object (or “medium”) move relative to each other. So, you see, there is a logical progression here, with most parts of the course building on top of the previous ones, and energy as one of the main connecting themes.

## Aside- The Atomic Perspective

As an aside, it should perhaps be mentioned that the building up of classical mechanics around this concept of ideal particles had nothing to do, initially, with any belief in “atoms,” or an atomic theory of matter. Indeed, for most 18th and 19th century physicists, matter was supposed to be a continuous medium, and its (mental) division into particles was just a mathematical convenience.

The atomic hypothesis became increasingly more plausible as the 19th century wore on, and by the 1920’s, when quantum mechanics came along, physicists had to face a surprising development: matter, it turned out, was indeed made up of “elementary particles,” but these particles could not, in fact, be themselves described by the laws of classical mechanics. One could not, for instance, attribute to them simultaneously well-defined positions and velocities. Yet, in spite of this, most of the conclusions of classical mechanics remain valid for macroscopic objects, because, most of the time, it is OK to (formally) “break up” extended objects into chunks that are small enough to be treated as particles, but large enough that one does not need quantum mechanics to describe their behavior.

Quantum properties were first found to manifest themselves at the macroscopic level when dealing with thermal energy, because at one point it really became necessary to figure out where and how the energy was stored at the truly microscopic (atomic) level. Thus, after centuries of successes, classical mechanics met its first failure with the so-called *problem of the specific heats*, and a completely new physical theory—quantum mechanics—had to be developed in order to deal with the newly-discovered atomic world. But all this, as they say, is another story, and for our very brief dealings with thermal physics—the last chapter in this book—we will just take specific heats as given, that is to say, something you measure (or look up in a table), rather than something you try to calculate from theory.