The Most Difficult Aspect of Physics: Understanding the Quantum Realm

Choose the aspect you think is the most difficult!

Author: Gregor Krambs
Updated on Apr 5, 2024 06:36
Welcome to StrawPoll, where curiosity meets consensus! We're excited to present our latest ranking challenge: "What is the most difficult aspect of physics?" Physics has always been a fascinating and complex subject, stretching the limits of human understanding and igniting endless debates. Now, it's your turn to join the conversation and make your voice heard! Cast your vote for the most mind-boggling, hair-pulling, and brain-twisting aspect of physics, or suggest a missing option that you think deserves recognition. From quantum mechanics to relativity, string theory to dark matter, let's unravel the enigma together and see which aspect rises to the top as the ultimate brain-teaser. Dive into this intellectual adventure and let the battle of the brains begin!

What Is the Most Difficult Aspect of Physics?

  1. 1
    Quantum mechanics
    Jcfisica · Public domain
    It deals with the behavior of matter and energy on a microscopic level, which is often counterintuitive and difficult to understand.
    Quantum mechanics is the branch of physics that studies the behavior of matter and energy at the smallest scales, where particles exhibit both wave-like and particle-like properties. It provides a mathematical framework for describing and understanding the quantum nature of the universe.
    • Wave-particle duality: Particles can exist in multiple states simultaneously, behaving as both particles and waves.
    • Quantization: Certain properties, such as energy levels and angular momentum, are quantized and can only take discrete values.
    • Uncertainty principle: It is impossible to simultaneously know both the position and momentum of a particle with absolute certainty.
    • Superposition: Particles can exist in a superposition of multiple states until measured or observed, collapsing the wavefunction into a single state.
    • Quantum entanglement: Particles can become entangled, exhibiting a correlation between their properties regardless of the distance between them.
    Quantum mechanics in other rankings
  2. 2

    General relativity

    Albert Einstein
    It is the theory of gravity that explains how massive objects curve space and time, which is highly complex and requires advanced mathematical skills.
    General relativity is a theory of gravity that describes the curvature of spacetime due to the presence of mass and energy. It was developed by Albert Einstein in 1915 as a theory to explain the motion of objects under the influence of gravity, especially in situations where the effects of gravity are strong or where high velocities are involved.
    • Curvature of Spacetime: General relativity explains that mass and energy cause spacetime to curve, and the motion of objects is determined by following the curved spacetime paths.
    • Principle of Equivalence: General relativity incorporates the equivalence principle, which states that the effects of gravity are indistinguishable from the effects of acceleration.
    • Gravitational Time Dilation: General relativity predicts that time runs slower in strong gravitational fields, resulting in gravitational time dilation.
    • Gravitational Waves: General relativity predicts the existence of gravitational waves, which are ripples in the fabric of spacetime caused by accelerating massive objects.
    • Bending of Light: General relativity predicts that light bends when passing through regions of strong gravitational fields.
  3. 3
    Particle physics
    DimitrisSideridis · CC BY-SA 4.0

    Particle physics

    Ernest Rutherford
    It studies the fundamental particles and forces that make up the universe, which requires highly sophisticated experimental equipment and theoretical models.
    Particle physics is a branch of physics that studies the fundamental particles and forces that make up the universe. It aims to understand the nature and behavior of these particles and their interactions. The field of particle physics has led to groundbreaking discoveries, such as the existence of quarks, the Higgs boson, and the concept of antimatter.
    • Large Hadron Collider (LHC): World's largest and most powerful particle accelerator
    • Standard Model: Theoretical framework that describes the known elementary particles and their interactions
    • Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD): Theory of the strong nuclear force that binds quarks together
    • Electroweak Theory: Unification of the electromagnetic and weak forces
    • Weak Interactions: Force responsible for radioactive decay and neutrino interactions
  4. 4
    It is the study of the origin, evolution, and structure of the universe, which involves complex mathematical models and observations of distant objects.
    Cosmology is the branch of physics that studies the origin, evolution, and structure of the universe as a whole. It explores fundamental questions about the nature of space, time, matter, and energy at cosmic scales.
    • Big Bang Theory: The prevailing theory for the origin of the universe, suggesting that it began from a singular, extremely hot and dense state roughly 13.8 billion years ago.
    • Dark Matter: An invisible form of matter that is thought to make up a significant portion of the mass in the universe, exerting gravitational effects on visible matter.
    • Dark Energy: A mysterious form of energy that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate.
    • Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB): Radiation leftover from the early stages of the universe, providing a snapshot of the universe when it was just 380,000 years old.
    • Inflation: A theory that explains the initial rapid expansion of the universe, solving various problems with the standard Big Bang model.
  5. 5
    It deals with the transfer of heat and energy in systems, which can be challenging to apply to real-world scenarios.
    Thermodynamics is a branch of physics that deals with the study of heat, energy, and their transformation in various systems. It focuses on understanding and describing the behavior of macroscopic systems, such as gases, liquids, and solids, in terms of their thermal properties and equilibrium states.
    • First Law of Thermodynamics: Conservation of energy: Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred or converted.
    • Second Law of Thermodynamics: Entropy: In isolated systems, the entropy (degree of disorder) never decreases.
    • Thermodynamic Equilibrium: A state where macroscopic variables, such as temperature and pressure, remain constant.
    • Enthalpy: A measure of heat energy within a system, including both internal energy and pressure-volume work.
    • Carnot Cycle: The most efficient cycle possible for converting heat energy into work.
  6. 6
    It is the study of the interaction between electrically charged particles and magnetic fields, which can be difficult to visualize and understand.
    Electromagnetism is a branch of physics that deals with the study of electromagnetic forces and fields. It encompasses the interactions between electrically charged particles and the electromagnetic field, as well as the generation and propagation of electromagnetic waves. Electromagnetism plays a fundamental role in our understanding of electricity, magnetism, and light.
    • Electromagnetic Theory: It combines electric and magnetic phenomena into a single theory.
    • Maxwell's Equations: A set of four fundamental equations that describe the behavior of electric and magnetic fields.
    • Electric Charge: Particles can possess positive or negative electric charge.
    • Electric Field: The region around a charged particle that exerts force on other charged particles.
    • Magnetic Field: The region around a magnetic material or a moving charged particles that influences other charged particles or magnets.
  7. 7
    Statistical mechanics
    J. Willard Gibbs · Public domain

    Statistical mechanics

    Ludwig Boltzmann
    It applies statistical methods to predict the behavior of large numbers of particles, which can be highly complex and require advanced mathematical skills.
    Statistical mechanics is a branch of physics that focuses on understanding macroscopic systems in terms of their microscopic constituents. It provides a statistical framework to explain and predict the behavior of a large number of particles, such as atoms and molecules, and their interactions.
    • Statistical Ensembles: Different probabilistic distributions used to describe the states of a system.
    • Thermodynamic Equilibrium: The state where the macroscopic properties of a system remain constant over time.
    • Entropy: A measure of the disorder or randomness of a system.
    • Boltzmann Distribution: Describes the probability distribution of different energy states in a system at equilibrium.
    • Partition Function: A function that provides information about the thermodynamic properties of a system.
  8. 8

    Fluid dynamics

    Leonardo da Vinci
    It studies the behavior of fluids in motion, which can be challenging to model and predict.
    Fluid dynamics is the branch of physics that deals with the study of fluids in motion and the forces acting upon them. It encompasses the behavior of both liquids and gases and studies various phenomena such as flow patterns, turbulence, viscosity, and pressure distribution. Understanding fluid dynamics is crucial in a wide range of fields, including engineering, biology, meteorology, and astrophysics.
    • Vorticity: Measure of fluid rotation
    • Mach Number: Relative speed of an object compared to the speed of sound
    • Dimensionality: 3D
    • Conservation Laws: Mass, Energy, Momentum
    • Navier-Stokes Equations: Fundamental equations describing fluid behavior
  9. 9
    It is the study of the physical properties and behavior of celestial objects, which can involve complex observations and theoretical models.
    Astrophysics is a branch of science that combines principles of physics and astronomy to study the physical properties of celestial objects, such as stars, planets, galaxies, and the universe as a whole. It aims to understand the fundamental processes governing these objects and their interactions through the application of various scientific methods and theories.
    • Interdisciplinary Field: Astrophysics combines concepts from physics, astronomy, mathematics, and other scientific disciplines.
    • Study of Celestial Objects: Astrophysics focuses on analyzing the properties, behavior, and evolution of stars, galaxies, black holes, and other cosmic entities.
    • Cosmology: Astrophysics investigates the origins, structure, and evolution of the universe at large scales.
    • Quantum Mechanics: Astrophysics employs quantum mechanics to understand the behavior of subatomic particles, which plays a crucial role in stellar nucleosynthesis, fusion reactions, and more.
    • Relativity: Astrophysics incorporates Einstein's theory of general relativity to study gravitational interactions, spacetime curvature, and phenomena like gravitational waves.
  10. 10
    Nuclear physics
    Kjerish · CC BY-SA 4.0
    It studies the properties and behavior of atomic nuclei, which can require advanced mathematical and experimental techniques.
    Nuclear physics is the branch of physics that focuses on the study of atomic nuclei and their interactions, including nuclear reactions, radioactive decay, and nuclear energy. It explores the fundamental properties and behavior of atomic nuclei, as well as the forces that hold them together and the processes that can break them apart.
    • Nuclear Reactions: Investigates the processes that occur during interactions between atomic nuclei, such as fusion, fission, and nuclear decay.
    • Radioactive Decay: Examines the spontaneous disintegration of atomic nuclei, emitting radiation and transforming into other elements.
    • Nuclear Energy: Studies the generation of energy from nuclear reactions, including nuclear power and applications in medicine and industry.
    • Nuclear Structure: Analyzes the internal structure of atomic nuclei, their size, shape, and distribution of protons and neutrons.
    • Nuclear Forces: Investigates the strong force, the fundamental force that holds atomic nuclei together despite the electromagnetic repulsion between protons.

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Ranking factors for difficult aspect

  1. Mathematical complexity
    The level of mathematical knowledge and skill required to understand, manipulate, and solve problems in a given aspect of physics. More advanced topics tend to involve higher levels of mathematical complexity.
  2. Conceptual understanding
    The level of difficulty in grasping the fundamental concepts and principles involved. Some areas of physics require significant mental effort to visualize or internalize the underlying concepts.
  3. Intuition development
    The degree to which the concepts in the topic align with everyday experiences and common sense. Some areas of physics are highly counterintuitive, making them more difficult to understand and apply.
  4. Problem-solving skills
    The ability to apply knowledge and concepts to solve complex and varied problems. More difficult aspects of physics will require greater problem-solving skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, and perseverance.
  5. Scope and breadth of the topic
    The range of phenomena, subtopics, and applications associated with a specific aspect of physics. Aspects that cover a wider range of topics and require knowledge from multiple areas may be more difficult to master.
  6. Interdisciplinary nature
    The extent to which the aspect of physics is connected to or dependent on other disciplines, such as mathematics, chemistry, or engineering. More interdisciplinary aspects can be harder to study, as they may require understanding of multiple fields.
  7. Experimental and observational challenges
    The level of difficulty in designing and executing experiments or making accurate observations in a given area of physics. Some aspects may involve complex or delicate experimental setups, or require sophisticated instruments and techniques.
  8. Computational challenges
    The level of difficulty in developing and implementing computational models and simulations. Some aspects of physics involve large-scale computations, or require high levels of computational expertise and access to advanced computational resources.
  9. Availability of resources and support
    The availability of educational materials, such as textbooks, lectures, and online resources, as well as the support from instructors, peers, and mentors in the field. Some aspects may be more challenging due to limited resources or a smaller community of professionals and experts.
  10. Personal interest and motivation
    Finally, an individual's personal interest and motivation for studying a particular aspect of physics can have a significant impact on the perceived difficulty. Students who are passionate and highly motivated about a topic may find it less difficult than someone who lacks interest or motivation.

About this ranking

This is a community-based ranking of the most difficult aspect of physics. We do our best to provide fair voting, but it is not intended to be exhaustive. So if you notice something or aspect is missing, feel free to help improve the ranking!


  • 176 votes
  • 10 ranked items

Voting Rules

A participant may cast an up or down vote for each aspect once every 24 hours. The rank of each aspect is then calculated from the weighted sum of all up and down votes.

More information on most difficult aspect of physics

Physics is a fascinating and complex field of science that deals with the study of matter, energy, and their interactions. From the smallest subatomic particles to the largest structures in the universe, physicists seek to understand the fundamental laws that govern the behavior of the physical world. However, mastering the concepts and principles of physics can be a daunting task, even for the most dedicated and brilliant minds. Many students and professionals alike struggle with certain aspects of physics, such as grasping abstract concepts, solving complex mathematical equations, and interpreting experimental data. In this article, we will explore some of the most challenging aspects of physics and why they continue to present formidable obstacles for even the most experienced physicists.

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