História da Física - F

Ano letivo: 2012-2013
Specification sheet

Specific details
course codecycle os studiesacademic semestercredits ECTSteaching language

Learning goals

Main specific competences:

A – Deep General Culture in Physics:

This curricular unit is transversal and interdisciplinary and is delivered in the last semester of the 3rd Cycle of Studies when students already have a reasonable general culture in Physics. Under these circumstances, it is possible to promote:

- an understanding of the interaction and complementarity between different fields of Physics, which are frequently seen as independent fields from which a deepening of knowledge in Physics will emerge.

- a better understanding of the nature of science and especially of Physics.

A – Interdisciplinarity


- the understanding that Physics development  happens in a social, cultural, economic and political context.

- an open attitude towards other areas of human activity, important at any level, especially if one emphasises the fact that nowadays the multi and/or interdisciplinary work is increasingly highlighted.

E – Ability to search and use bibliography:

Secondary specific competences:

- Ability to learn.

- Ability to solve problems.



The importance of History of Physics in the academic training of a future professional in this field of science. The creation of scientific knowledge and the nature of science – information about different epistemological trends in this field. The scientific evolution and the birth of Modern Science – the importance of knowing the before and the after events.

2. Theories and concepts of movement and structure of the Universe in Ancient Times and Middle Ages.

2.1. The remote origins of Science: a brief reference to the development of astronomy and other forms of knowledge in primitive civilizations.

2.2. Science in Ancient Greece: observational and theoretical basis for the development of cosmological models; Plato’s problem; Aristotelian system and its antecedents; theory of movement and theory of the structure of matter; Aristotle’s Cosmological Model – its limitations and effects on the future epochs.

2.3. Alexandria School: Archimedes and the origins of Mechanics; determination of astronomical quantities; the heliocentric model of Aristarchus of Samos; Ptolomy and the geocentric model.

2.4. Knowledge in the Middle Ages: The compilation of knowledge in the first centuries of the Middle Ages; the Arabic influence, the creation of universities, scholastic philosophy and the revival of knowledge; the theory of impetus; the technical progress (useful arts) in the last centuries of the Middle Ages; the precursor signs of modernity.

The Scientific Revolution and the birth and consolidation of Modern Science.

The Renaissance and the dawn of a new era of knowledge: the political, cultural and material conditions for the creation of a new mentality; Copernicus heliocentric model – its revolutionary and conservative aspects and its impact on the thinking of that time; the importance of astronomical observations of Tycho Brahe. The new science and the quantification of natural phenomena: the development of Mathematics and scientific tools.

3.3. Galileo and the fundamentals of modern science. Speeches and Dialogues.

3.4. Kepler – the search for harmony and respect for the observational data; the abandonment of the dogma of circular motion; cinematic laws of the planetary motion. Newton: the laws of dynamics; gravitational theory; the establishment of the new scientific paradigm.

3.5 Science and Illuminism: the art of experiencing and the new pedagogies; Science in Portugal in the 18th Century; illuminist reformation of the Marquis of Pombal; Physics during the Pombal Reform – the Experimental Physics Cabinet.

4. Post-Newtonian Classic Physics and the concept of energy.

4.1. A new mechanics based on the concept of energy: the contributions of D’Alembert, Malpertuis, Lagrange and Hamilton.

4.2. The development of Thermodynamics. From the caloric fluid to the distinction between heat and work as transfer processes of energy; the first law of thermodynamics – from the conversion and transfer to the law of energy conservation; the second law of thermodynamics – the concept of entropy and energy dissipation; technological implications of the development of thermodynamics.

4.3. Conservation Laws and symmetries: the importance of the conservation laws in Physics; examples.

5. From the hidden virtues to the field theories – the electromagnetic field.

5.1. The evolution of knowledge of magnetism: primitive concepts; the observational contributions and the contributions of tool builders; the work of William Gilbert as a starting point for the systematic study of magnetism.

5.2. The development of electrostatics: electrostatics in the first part of the 18th Century; Franklin and the new era of electrostatics. Coulomb and the quantification of electrical and magnetic phenomena.

5.3. The discovery of electric current: Galvani and Volta.

5.4. On the way to the unification of electrical and magnetic phenomena: the experiments of Oersted and Ampère; Faraday and the electromagnetic induction; Maxwell and the Theory of Electromagnetic Field; Hertz and the experimental confirmation of Maxwell’s theory.

5.5. The nature of light: theories and primitive concepts; the finitude of the speed of light; the wave theory and corpuscle theory; the rebirth of wave theory.

6. The 20th Century and the opening of new borders.

6.1. The achievements and limitations of Classic Physics: the successes and still open problems; the great discoveries of the end of the 20th Century and the need of a new physics.

6.2. Quantum Mechanics: the main historical stages of the development of Quantum Mechanics; the theoretical formalizations of Schrodinger and Heisenberg; other developments, Physics and the representation of nature.

6.3. The Theory of Relativity: The Special Theory of Relativity and the new notions of space, time and energy; The General Theory of Relativity and Geometrization of Space-Time.

6.4. The impact of Quantum Mechanics and Theory of Relativity: implications for the development of other scientific and technological domains; the emergence of new epistemological perspectives.

6.5. The development of Nuclear and Particle Physics and other branches of Physics: the discovery of neutron, deuterium and positron (1932) and the birth of Nuclear Physics; the discovery of nuclear fission and its implications; the construction of the first accelerators; the discovery of new particles and the theoretical development; the progress in other branches of Physics.


General Physics, Modern Physics Fundamentals, Classic Mechanics I, Quantum Mechanics I, Electromagnetism I, Thermodynamics.

Generic skills to reach
. Competence in analysis and synthesis;
. Competence in oral and written communication;
. Knowledge of a foreign language;
. Critical thinking;
. Competence in autonomous learning;
. Using the internet as a communication medium and information source;
. Competence for working in group;
. Valuing diversity and multiculturalism;
. Competence to communicate with people who are not experts in the field;
. Creativity;
(by decreasing order of importance)
Teaching hours per semester
total of teaching hours30

Synthesis work thesis20 %
Project10 %
Mini tests10 %
Exam60 %
assessment implementation in 20122013
Mini tests : 10.0%
Project : 10.0%
Summary work : 20.0%
Exam: 60.0%

Bibliography of reference

HEILBRON, J. L. (1982). Elements of Early Modern Physics. Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press.

HOLTON, G. (1973). Introduction to Concepts and Theories in Physical Science. New-York: Addison-Wesley Pub. Comp.

SEGRÈ, E. (1980). From X-Rays to Quarks- Modern Physicists and their Discoveries. USA: Library of Congress Catal. Pub. Dat.

SINGER, J. (1959). A Short history of Scientific Ideas to 1900. Oxford University Press.

Bibliografia complementar:

HOLTON, G. (1974). Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought. Havard: Havard Univ. Press.

KOYRÉ, A. (1990). Do Mundo Fechado ao Universo Infinito. Lisboa: Gradiva.

KRAGH, H. (2000). Introdução à Historiografia da Ciência. Porto: Porto Editora.

Teaching method

Given the fact that this curricular unit – History of Physics – is for students of Physics, it will focus on the understanding of the development of concepts and physical theories in the context of their time; theoretical classes should comprise a significant interactive component. The use of PowerPoint presentations with more images than text, reading and discussion of texts from primary sources, oral presentation of small researches carried out by students are means that can attract students and make them responsible for their own acquisition of knowledge. Students will be given different assignments to be carried out outside classes, that may be small research assignments, written comments to texts, a written summary about a certain theme or about an article on the history of physics. Visits to Museums of the University will be desirable. All these proposals can be adjusted in accordance with their practical appropriateness. Individual support will be given to students for the accomplishment of the activities outside classes.

Resources used
Datashow, retroprojector e ecrã