Physics Life - Text Only Version

The Physics Life cartoon street highlights the physics that is around us in our everyday lives.




Stars appear to twinkle in the night sky because the air above us is moving and affecting the light that reaches us. However, most planets do not twinkle, why do you think that is? Search for more information about why stars twinkle


The earth's gravitational field keeps our moon in orbit around us but in turn the moon also exerts gravity on us and creates our tides. Search for more information about tides


Comets are made from ice, rock and dust left over from the birth of our universe. When they are close to the sun it causes the signature tails which always stream away from the sun. When the comet itself is also moving away from the sun its tail can be ahead of it. Search for more information about Comets

Cat's Eyes

The road reflectors known as cat's eyes are cube cornered reflectors that send the light back in the direction it came from. Their inventor was inspired by an encounter with a cat on a foggy road.



There are lots of home physics experiments and demonstrations you can try with household items. Search for more information about experiments with household items


A hover mower floats on a cushion of air using the same principles as a hovercraft. Search for more information about hovercraft


Greenhouses trap heat because the sunlight that enters is absorbed by the objects inside and then radiated in a new form of energy which cannot escape back through the glass. This is the same effect that causes cars to heat up when left in the sun and involves the same principles that give global warming. Search for more information about Greenhouses

Washing Line

Why does your washing dry faster outside? Hanging washing out allows water to evaporate quickly by increasing the surface area and air convection.


Sundials are one of the most ancient forms of tracking time and were developed with a slanted marker to compensate for the earth's tilt which made previous designs less accurate. Search for more information about Sundials


Bicycles make use of many physics principles, such as in the gearing system or by using ball bearings to reduce friction.

Speed Camera

Speed cameras can be triggered by wires set in the road or radar speed detectors.

Car Factory


Crash Testing

Crumple zones are areas of a car that are specifically designed to crush easily if it crashes and absorb the energy of the impact minimising the effect to passengers.

Car Lift

Hydraulics use an incompressible fluid to transfer force and can multiply the force you apply, this is used in car brake systems.

Oil Reflections

When oil is spilt on water both layers reflect light and this combination of light can cause rainbow style patterns. Search for more about Oil Reflections


The common experience of travelling in an elevator is often used in a thought experiment to explain Einstein's General Theory of Relativity which describes how space and time can curve.


Power tools (such as drills) use small electric motors to turn the drill bit at very high speed. Tools such as spanners (wrenches) and screwdrivers act as levers to reduce the force needed.

Fuse Box

A fuse box protects electrical circuits from the effects of excessive currents and circuit breakers protect humans from much larger potentially fatal currents. Appliances around the home have different fuse ratings depending on the amount of electrical current they use: a cooker is rated at 30 Amps (A) whilst a TV is rated at 12A. FInd out more



The car engine uses petrol/diesel as a power source and converts this into energy using the Laws of Thermodynamics.

Catalytic Converters CAT

Catalytic Converters made with metals such as platinum, chromium, nickel, and copper are used in cars as they encourage the dangerous gases (produced when burning fuel) to react and prevent them being released into the atmosphere.


Rubber tyres used on vehicles such as cars, trucks, buses, bicycles, and aeroplanes provide friction which allows them to move, turn, accelerate, and brake. The pattern on the tyres plays a role in determining how strong the friction is.


Car suspension softens the impact of bumps on the road but you also need the piston like shock absorbers to dampen the motion otherwise your car would continue moving up and down after the bump.

Composite Materials

Traditional materials can be combined to make composite materials that have improved qualities such as strength, stiffness or weight.


Seatbelts aim to make your stopping distance the same as that of the vehicle and so hopefully longer than if you were to hit the windscreen. In this way as much kinetic energy can be lost as possible and the force of the impact will be reduced.


Airbags are designed to spread the impact force over as large an area as possible and so minimise the pressure on your body.


Car alarms use sensors that detect when doors are opened but they also have other clever sensors that can detect motion. This is why alarms often go off when cars are swayed by sudden passing vehicles or strong winds.

Global Positioning System GPS

The Global Positioning System uses signals from satellites orbiting the earth to accurately determine the receiver's position so you need never be lost.


Fax Machine

Fax machines scan a document and convert the text/pictures into an electrical signal. This is then sent via a telephone exchange to the machine you dialled which converts the electrical signal back into text/pictures and prints it out.


Charles Babbage is known as the inventor of the first computer. The development of computers and the internet means information from all over the world can be sent to you down fibre optic cables or ordinary phone lines.


Flat screens use Liquid Crystal Displays and are a more advanced version of the technology used in a calculator display.


Inkjet printers are increasingly being overtaken by laser printers now but how do they use a laser to produce the print? A small laser is used to create an electrostatic version of the image which the ink then sticks to. Do you want to know more?


Fans do not actually cool air but the air passing over your skin increases the heat lost by evaporation and convection making it feel cooler.


Photocopiers use an electrostatic image created by light to attract the toner (dry ink) to the correct parts of the paper for your copy.

Newton's Cradle

A Newton's cradle is a simple toy that demonstrates conservation of momentum. Do you want to know more or play with one?

Extension Lead

Circuit design is regularly used to manipulate electricity for our needs as in an extension lead that allows us to plug more than one item into a socket safely.

Compact Disc

Music, speech or movies can be turned into binary (1 or 0) information by a computer and this can then be recorded by a laser onto a compact disc or DVD.

Air Conditioning

Air conditioning works on the same principles as a fridge or freezer, they use a gas that evaporates at a low temperature to absorb heat.


Upright vacuum cleaners are the most popular all-around cleaners and date from 1908. Drawing up air gives a partial vacuum which the dirt is then pushed up into.


Telephones convert your voice into an electrical signal and send this signal down a wire through a telephone exchange to another phone where the signal is turned back into sound. Do you want to know more?

Mobile Phone

Mobile phones work by changing your voice into radio frequency signals. The phone transmits these to receiving stations (or satellites for satellite phones). The signals are then relayed via a telephone exchange to the phone you called. Do you want to know more?




Music, speech or movies can be turned into binary (1 or 0) information by a computer this can then be recorded by a laser onto a compact disc or DVD. VCR

Without the clever rotating head method of reading the magnetic information on a video tape a two hour film would need 50 miles of tape. Do you want to know more?


The television was invented by John Logie Baird in 1925. Most use a Cathode Ray Tube and a 3 colour phosphor (Red Green Blue RGB) to make a colour picture but the quality of picture (and sound) is being radically improved by digital TV. Do you want to know more?


A radio uses its aerial to pick up electromagnetic radio waves that are transmitted through the atmosphere. Radio waves can be broadcast as: AM (Amplitude Modulation), FM (Frequency Modulation) or digital radio. Do you want to know more?

Remote Control

When you press a numbered button on your remote the electronics in the control change this into a digital infrared signal which is sent by a Light Emitting Diode (LED) to your TV. Do you want to know more?

Plug Socket

Have you ever thought about how many items in your house rely on electricity? It was Michael Faraday in 1831 who showed that electricity could be generated by a magnetic field moving past wires.


A speaker works by passing an alternating current through a coil of wire which creates a magnetic field. This field can be used to make a cone vibrate, this movement creates the sound you hear. Do you want to know more?

Double Glazing

Heat is lost through windows by conduction. This is reduced with double glazing as it uses two sheets of glass separated by an insulating air gap.



Cookers turn either electrical energy or energy released when burning gas/fossil fuels into heat. The second law of thermodynamics explains how heat moves from the cooker to the food in the pan. Do you want to know more?

Frying Pan

Today non-stick cookware is coated in a heat resistant substance called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), more commonly known as Teflon. Teflon was discovered by Roy Plunkett whilst working with the gases used in refrigerators and is now used for all sorts of unusual items.


The heat that is used to toast bread is produced by passing an electrical current through thin wires which glow red hot. The amount of heat produced depends on the resistance of the material the wire is made from. Do you want to know more?


The Coriolis force determines the direction that cyclones and hurricanes turn in the northern or southern hemisphere. However, contrary to the popular myth, it is too weak to affect the direction water spins as it drains from your sink.


The most important principle behind microwave ovens is that all food contains water. The microwave oven generates electromagnetic waves called microwaves which make water molecules vibrate and become hot.


Electric kettles heat water by passing an electrical current through a heating element. The amount of heat produced by the element depends on the resistance of the material it is made from.


A blender uses an electric motor to turn sharp blades which cut or puree. The motor works by passing an alternating current (AC) through a coil of wire. The current passing through the coil produces a magnetic field which is used to turn the blades.


The basic components of a modern refrigerator are a compressor, a condenser, an expansion device (such as a valve) and a pump. Refrigerators use a gas coolant to remove heat from the inside compartment. The coolness you feel when in front of an open fridge/freezer door is the heat being drawn from you rather than cold coming out.



Archimedes is well known for jumping from his bath shouting eureka and his discovery that any object placed in a liquid will experience an upward force equal to the weight of the liquid it displaces, this is known as the Archimedes Principle.


The typical mirror is a sheet of glass that has one side coated with aluminium or silver. The silvered coating produces images by reflecting the light that hits it. Do you want to know more?

Flourescent Lighting

The first domestic fluorescent lighting was used in the 1930's and was made from a long tube with a mercury-vapour filling and inner walls coated with a material which glows white or near white.



Levers are a very simple way of reducing the amount of force or effort needed to move an object.


Swings are really a form of pendulum and so use the same physics concepts. Did you realise that when you use your legs to make yourself go higher you are doing so by raising and lowering your centre of gravity which generates the extra movement.


How do footballers manage to curl a ball in flight? The spin of the ball gives different air pressure levels either side of the ball and the forces are imbalanced creating a curved path.


How do aeroplanes create lift to enable them to take off and to stay in the air? This is partly because their wings are shaped so that air above the wing moves faster than air below and so the pressure is greater below and pushes upwards. Do you want to know more?

Hot Air Balloon

Hot air balloons use the fact that hot air is lighter than cool air to float. The canopy has a valve to allow the pilot to move up or down and catch different winds. Balloon technology is now so advanced that they can ascend to heights of 132,000ft (39,600m).


Wind power is just one source of renewable energy that scientists have been developing to try to replace fossil fuels which will one day run out.


Our sun produces its power through the nuclear fusion of hydrogen. In billions of years time when nearly all its hydrogen has been used up the sun will expand and drastically raise the temperature of Earth. After this the sun will explode and engulf the Earth.


Clouds form when evaporated water condenses around particles in the air. Do you want to know more?


Frisbees use the same principles as planes to fly, the rim around the Frisbee causes the lower pressure across the top which is needed to create lift underneath. Do you want to know more?


Pupil on Chair

Most people have an intuitive ability's to find the centre of gravity of an object but we also use it to balance ourselves and this is important in lots of activities such as horse riding or dance.

Paper Aeroplane

Why is it that some paper plane designs work better than others? The aerodynamics of the plane shape greatly affect its performance and these are the same ideas that are applied to aeroplanes or cars.

Bunsen Burner

Boiling point is dependent on the atmospheric pressure, so water boiled by climbers high up a mountain will boil at lower than 100°C.


Telescopes use a simple combination of lenses or mirrors to magnify the light from distant objects enabling us to see them more clearly.


An overhead projector uses lenses to direct the light that is shone through a slide on to the screen and magnify its image for display.

Test Tube

Boiling point is dependent on the atmospheric pressure so water boiled by climbers high up a mountain will boil at lower than 100 C.


In the 1950’s Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce developed new technology in the form of an integrated circuit chip. They revolutionised electronics and paved the way for the invention of pocket calculators.


A bell’s vibrations are passed on to the air particles around it and create sound waves that are interpreted by our ears.

Fizzy Drink

Fizzy drinks contain carbon dioxide gas bubbles that are constantly being pushed to the top of your drink by the greater pressure at the bottom. So why does shaking the drink before opening make it spill? Do you want to know more?

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