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Fundamental Forces in Nature

We all have an intuitive notion of force. In our experience, force is needed to push, carry or throw objects, deform or break them. We also experience the impact of forces on us, like when a moving object hits us or when we are in a merry-go-round. Going from this intuitive notion to the proper scientific concept of force is not a trivial matter. Early thinkers like Aristotle had wrong ideas about it. The correct notion of force was arrived at by Isaac Newton in his famous laws of motion. He also gave an explicit form for the force for gravitational attraction between two bodies. We shall learn these matters in subsequent chapters.


In the macroscopic world, besides the gravitational force, we encounter several kinds of forces: muscular force, contact forces between bodies, friction (which is also a contact force parallel to the surfaces in contact), the forces exerted by compressed or elongated springs and taut strings and ropes (tension), the force of buoyancy and viscous force when solids are in contact with fluids, the force due to pressure of a fluid, the force due to surface tension of a liquid, and so on. There are also forces involving charged and magnetic bodies. In the microscopic domain again, we have electric and magnetic forces, nuclear forces involving protons and neutrons, interatomic and intermolecular forces, etc. We shall get familiar with some of these forces in later parts of this course.

A great insight of the twentieth century physics is that these different forces occurring in different contexts actually arise from only a small number of fundamental forces in nature. For example, the elastic spring force arises due to the net attraction/repulsion between the neighbouring atoms of the spring when the spring is elongated/compressed. This net attraction/repulsion can be traced to the (unbalanced) sum of electric forces between the charged constituents of the atoms.

In principle, this means that the laws for ‘derived’ forces (such as spring force, friction) are not independent of the laws of fundamental forces in nature. The origin of these derived forces is, however, very complex.

Link between Technology and Physics


Scientific Principles

Steam engine

Laws of thermodynamics

Nuclear reactor

Controlled nuclear fission

Radio and Television

Generation, propagation and detection of electromagnetic waves


Digital logic


Light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation

Production of ultra high magnetic fields


Rocket propulsion

Newton’s laws of motion

Electric generator

Faraday’s laws of electromagnetic induction

Hydroelectric power

Conversion of gravitational potential energy into electrical energy


Bernoulli’s principle in fluid dynamics

Particle accelerators

Motion of charged particles in electromagnetic fields


Reflection of ultrasonic waves

Optical fibres

Total internal reflection of light

Non-reflecting coatings

Thin film optical interference

Electron microscope

Wave nature of electrons


Photoelectric effect

Fusion test reactor (Tokamak)

Magnetic confinement of plasma

Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT)

Detection of cosmic radio waves

Bose-Einstein Condensation

Trapping and cooling of atoms by laser beams and magnetic fields.

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