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Discoveries made in science are done so through the process of experimentation. Physics, which is the study of energy and matter, is no different. Knowledge that furthers the science of physics is gained through following the scientific method, which includes performing experiments to prove a hypothesis. Most often these experiments are performed in a physics laboratory, more commonly called a physics lab. Physics labs are also used by students who learn about the science through demonstration in a physics lab.
Physics is primarily concerned with how motion, light, heat and force interact with energy and matter, so a physics lab has a variety of instruments used to conduct these kinds of experiments. They are usually equipped with items for weight and measure, such as glass beakers, test tubes and scales. Besides weight and measure items, there are numerous other items used, such as heat lamps, lenses, magnets, inclined planes, balls, pendulums and any kind of item that a scientist needs to perform his experiment.
The disciplines within the broad umbrella of physics are optics, electricity and magnetism, mechanics, acoustics, nuclear and modern physics, and thermodynamics. Within these disciplines there are more than 20 sub-disciplines, such as astrophysics, biophysics, geophysics and nuclear physics. Because of this broad range, a physics lab may also have more sophisticated equipment, such as spectroscopes, electromagnets, telescopes and microscopes.
The design and function of a physics lab has changed throughout the years. With the invention of computers and highly sophisticated computer software, modern physics labs allow scientists to run complicated computer simulations as part of laboratory experiments. Computer simulations give a scientist the tools to simulate real events, unlike a traditional laboratory experiment which will only simulate concepts that need real world application to make sense. The simulations are run by creating accurate mathematical models of events which can be studied.
The use of computer simulations has created a dichotomy in the field of physics. Those who use the simulations to prove their hypotheses are called theoretical physicists, while those who choose to perform classical physics experiments in a physics lab are called experimental physicists. Until the 21st century, experimental physicists have had the most success, but as technology grows, computer models and simulations have become more accurate, helping theoretical physicists have more success. Even though there are two schools of thought, they are both important to the advancement of physics, because many times an experimentalist will find unexplained phenomena which can be explained by collaboration with a theorist.