Part 1: Matter, Energy, and the Search for Truth
We live in a vast sea matter and energy.
Where did everything come from? And how do we fit in to the story of the universe?
In order to understand the nature of the universe, we must first become familiar with the two major pillars that compose everything that we can see and touch: Matter and Energy.
Now that we've identified what the material world is, we must find a way to measure it. Once we understand how to measure what we study, we gain the ability ascertain whether or not the presumptions we make about it can be verified and any tests we attempt can be quantified.
With our basic definitions and systems of measurement in place, we're in a position to explain how the universe works. The most reliable way to discover laws of the universe is through a process called the scientific method. If you follow these steps, truth will be revealed to you.
In the year 1687, Sir Isaac Newton published Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. In this book, he used the scientific method to give us the laws of motion. These laws show us a few basic rules for the interaction of matter and energy. He also gave us the law of universal gravitation. This law gives us a rudimentary understanding of gravity and why the sun rises and sets everyday. Gravity is one of the four fundamental forces in physics (we'll explore the other three forces later).
Part 2: The Atom
What is an atom?
Protons, neutrons, and electrons are the three fundamental particles that make up the matter we're familiar with. Out of the various combinations of the three, we can make every material in the known universe.
We often refer to each of these atoms as elements. Below, they're listed and organized in the form of a chart called the periodic table of elements.
In order to understand how atoms make up all of the observable matter in the universe, we first need to understand a little more about atomic structure.
How do atoms hold themselves together? The first major component is the power of a sticky force called electromagnetism. Electromagnetism is not only a force that helps bind the universe together, but it's also responsible for energy in the form of light. Along with gravity, electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental forces in physics.
The second force that binds atoms together is called the strong nuclear force. This is the strongest of all the forces in the universe, but since it functions on such a tiny scale, we don't even notice it. The strong nuclear force is the third of the four fundamental forces in physics (we aren't going to talk about the 4th force right now).
Remember the periodic table of elements? How do we identify what element an atom is? First, we need to understand Atomic Number, Mass Number, and Net Charge.
Let's take a look at the periodic table of elements and get a general overview of how it works. Each one of these elements are a specific type of atom, identified by its atomic number.
Part 3: Molecules and Chemical Reactions
How do all the atoms in the universe interact to make all the things we see around us? Let's explore how atoms form more complex forms of matter called molecules.
Now that we have a understanding of what atoms and molecules are, we're ready to talk about chemistry and chemical reactions. Through processes of physical change and chemical change, matter's elements can manifest in compounds and mixtures.
From fire to life itself, chemical changes are the key to so many of the changes we observe in the world around us. We classify chemical changes into five types of reactions: combination, decomposition, single replacement, double replacement and combustion.
Here are a couple of examples of the chemistry that we take for granted every day.
Part 4: Chemical Evolution, Cellular Structure
There's a giant leap between a rock and a human being. Because of that, it's hard to intuitively understand the connection between matter, energy, and life. Chemistry is that connective tissue. Without it, the universe would be a cold, dark place without anyone in it to appreciate its majesty.
No one knows how life began or where it came from. We weren't there. However, there is a lot of evidence for the most popular theory. But before we get there, we need to understand the concept of chemical evolution.
Under the right conditions and with enough time, earth can use matter and energy to build complex molecular structures. Along with amino acids and proteins, life as we know it requires a very special kind of molecule to function—one that can copy itself. This special molecule is called DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid). It's a molecule just like water is a molecule.
DNA functions like a code. It stores instructions for how a cell is to function. But what is a cell?
All life as we know it relies on cells to do the work we call life. If we could rewind the clock and investigate what this original cell was, we'd find what scientists have dubbed L.U.C.A (or the Last Universal Common Ancestor).
Part 5: Ecology, Natural Selection, and Biological Evolution
Now that we see how chemistry is the magic that connects matter, energy, and life together, we can begin to explore how all living things grow and evolve in a branch of science called biology. We'll start with an overview of ecology. This science studies living organisms and how they interact with their environment.
The world is full of complex ecosystems. These environments put pressures on every living creature to adapt in order to survive. Now we'll investigate an important concept in biology called natural selection.
After we understand the process of natural selection, we can revisit the concept of biological evolution.
How does evolution occur at the cellular level? Point mutations and gene duplications are the two primary pressures of random change from one generation to the next.
We can't just claim that evolution and natural selection is the origin of all species without significant evidence. The scientific method demands that evidence through testing and observation matches a hypothesis before we can make such a bold claim. So what evidence is there for this theory?