Physics is a natural science that studies the fundamental properties of space and time, the universe and its building blocks, as well as fundamental forces and forms of energy. The aim of physics is to describe the observable structures and processes in the universe. It proceeds methodically: on the one hand, precise observations have to be made and regularities established, e.g. the movement of celestial bodies with gigantic telescopes, the change of solids with the help of extremely powerful lasers and ultra-sharp microscopes in laboratories, or the formation of elementary particles through huge experiments at particle accelerators. On the other hand, these observations and regularities have to be described by physical models, e.g. Maxwellian electromagnetism, the theory of relativity or quantum mechanics. These models are typically formulated in the language of mathematics. In the process, an exciting cycle begins that is typical of any form of science: a model derived from observations and formulated in mathematical terms makes concrete predictions and must be able to be measured against further observations. If a measurement is found that is not consistent with the model under investigation, it must be revised or even discarded. This leads to new predictions and measurements, and thus to an improved understanding of nature.
An example: astronomers observe the course of the planets for centuries, Kepler finds astonishingly simple laws in the observations, which Newton in turn explains with the theory of gravity, inventing differential calculus in the process. Calculations then show that there must be more planets, and finally Neptune is found at the predicted location.
However, physics is not only basic research, but often also application-oriented. There are areas of physics that have a strong overlap with other, often technological, fields. In most cases, applied physics focuses on questions from these areas and uses knowledge of physical processes and models to answer them. Prominent examples are nanotechnology, materials science or medical physics.
The Department of Physics at TU Dortmund University has four main research areas, which are representative of the broad spectrum of physical issues.