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I just love when abstract concepts are reimagined as continents on a map.  We have already looked at the Map of the Internet and the Map of Fiction, but today I wanted to share something of a more scientific bent: the Map of Physics.

Map of Physics, by Bernard H. Porter, 1939 (via The Quantum Pontiff, http://dabacon.org/pontiff/?p=6431)

This map was created by Bernard H. Porter and was included in Kenyon College Professor Thomas B. Greenslade’s teaching materials.  The map dates to 1939, but it blends the older touches from the maps of the renaissance explorers with modern designs and concepts.  The continent of Physics is split up by rivers, so that each subsection of physics (such as magnetism or astronomy) is separate but adjacent.  Illustrations of scientific concepts and equipment populate the landscape in lieu of cities or states, similar to how old maps of the New World filled in the empty spaces with colorful drawings of the native flora, fauna, or peoples.

I am particularly interested in how the map acts as a historical background on the subfields of physics as well.  Each subfield contains the names of scientists in that subfield, going back to the founder of that field.  Porter playfully explains that the names of pioneer physicians represent villages on the continent of Physics, and the dates under the names are the dates that these villages were founded.  For example, Thales of Miletus founded the village that bears his name in the land of Magnetism in the year 640 B.C.

This map seems like a pretty novel way to introduce physics to students who may be more visual thinkers and have less of an interest in reading from dense textbooks.  Maps have been unquestionably useful for finding our way in the physical world.   But the Map of Physics shows that maps can give shape and form to anything unfamiliar, whether the subject is a foreign country or a foreign idea.

Happy mapping!

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