12 Essential Scientific Concepts
Indre Viskontas is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of San Francisco, where she runs the Creative Brain Lab. She earned a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has published more than 50 original papers and chapters related to the neural basis of memory and creativity. A passionate science communicator, she has appeared on major TV and radio programs and hosts the popular science podcast Inquiring Minds as well as the podcast Cadence: What Music Tells Us about the Mind.
01: The Miracle of Life
To truly understand what makes life special, you have to understand the fundamental makeup of life. In this first lecture, investigate the basic chemistry of living organisms, from the fundamental importance of water and carbon to the critical functions of proteins-the molecules that allow cells to survive, reproduce, and adapt.
02: The Organization of Life
Turn now to cells and the intricate organization of life. As you take an in-depth tour of eukaryotic cells (the kind your body is made of), you'll learn how to make sense of mitochondria, lysosomes, and other cell parts. You'll also see cellular organization at work in everything from making proteins to generating energy.
03: Evolution-The Tireless Tinkerer
Today, Charles Darwin's landmark theory of evolution is biology's fundamental organizing principle. So how did this revolutionary idea come about, and what were its roots? What scientific evidence proves the fundamental importance of evolution? What do antibiotics reveal about how the tireless tinkering of natural selection works in everyday life?
04: Other Mechanisms of Evolution
Explore some alternative mechanisms through which species can change, including genetic drift and gene flow, and the key role allele frequency plays in our understanding of evolution. You'll also examine the Hardy-Weinberg principle, used by evolutionary scientists to determine whether a population is actually evolving, and which mechanisms are driving the evolution.
05: DNA and Heritability
Professor Viskontas takes you back to the birth of genetics through the pioneering work of Gregor Mendel. Then, she shows you how to understand DNA as a simple code read by cells to produce new cellular components. And finally, she breaks down the complexities of how genes express themselves: through the generation of proteins.
06: Epigenetics, Mutations, and Gene Insertion
It turns out that our genes aren't fixed but change across our lifespans. In this fascinating lecture, investigate three major ways in which that happens: epigenetics, the modification of gene expression through environmental changes; mutations, which involve alterations in the genetic code; and gene insertion, in which viruses play a surprising role.
07: The Illusion of Coherence-How We See
The way you see is modular-but your consciousness is coherent. How is this possible? To answer this perplexing question, you'll explore the biology of the eye and investigate the curious "binding problem" at the heart of the intersection between neural physiology, cognition, and the philosophy of consciousness.
08: Acoustic Perception Deconstructed
First, get a better understanding of how our ears are built, and how that construction affects the hearing process. Then, learn why hearing loss offers the perfect demonstration of just how complex this process is. Finally, consider the essential subjectivity of pitch and how hearing and sight interact with one another.
09: Our Changing Brain
Science has revealed that our brains actually change shape over time. But how? Where in the brain does this occur? How are memories created? What is the relationship between brain plasticity and learning (or unlearning) skills and habits? These are just four of the many questions you'll encounter in this first lecture on neuroplasticity.
10: Plasticity, Brain Training, and Beyond
Delve deeper into the implications of neuroplasticity, and how we can harness its power to stave off the cognitive effects of aging, recover from disease, and master complex skills. The secrets lie in specific parts of the brain, like the hippocampus and specific proteins, like the brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF.
11: Magnetism and Its Magic
Magnetism is undoubtedly a strange aspect of the scientific world. Here, Professor Viskontas reveals what we know (and have yet to uncover) about magnets and how they work. You'll learn what makes a magnet magnetic, how spinning electrons create magnetic fields, the secrets of ferromagnetism, and much more.
12: Electrical Forces, Fields, and Circuits
To truly understand magnetism, you have to understand its cousin: electricity. First, get a primer on the basics of electricity. Then, explore the concept of electric potential (a combination of an object's electric charge and its position to other charged objects) and find out how electric circuits actually work in the human body and beyond.
13: Thermodynamics-Heat, Energy, and Work
Explore the concept of power in the inanimate world-as predicted through the three fascinating laws of thermodynamics (which describe the relationship between heat and work). Along the way, you'll understand how an ideal engine works and witness thermodynamics in action through the famous examples of steam and internal combustion engines.
14: Metabolism-Energy in the Cell
See how the laws of thermodynamics apply to metabolism, the energy exchanges between cells that keep us alive. Explore the inner workings of metabolism with detailed investigations of photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Learn how metabolism plays a role in today's metabolic engineering, a process by which we harness single-celled organisms to create useful products.
15: Fluid Mechanics-Pressure, Buoyancy, Flow
Professor Viskontas offers you a clear explanation of how aerodynamics (or fluid mechanics) works. Central to this illuminating lecture: the opportunity to finally make sense of the fundamentals of this scientific concept, including buoyant force, the relationship between pressure and depth, Bernoulli's equation, and the equation of continuity.
16: Navigation and Propulsion in Fluids
How has our greater scientific understanding of fluid mechanics given us the tools to move (and dominate) the land, sea, and air? How do we power the machines that allow us to do so? What's the difference between form drag and skin friction? What's actually happening when your plane hits turbulence?
17: The Big Bang That Didn't
Travel back to the very start of time and navigate the murky-but undeniably eye-opening-science behind the Big Bang. As you evaluate this scientific theory by considering the evidence available, you'll also ponder three ways the universe could end: the Big Crunch, the Big Freeze, and the Big Rip.
18: The Four Forces of Nature
Explore the four fundamental forces of nature, which scientists believe have guided the formation, expansion, and essence of our universe since it began. Not only will you learn the nuances of the strong force, the weak force, the electromagnetic force, and gravity-you'll learn the practical implications this knowledge has given us.
19: The Elements of Everything
Break down the elements of the periodic table and discover how it explains why elements behave the way they do-and points the way to elements that we have yet to discover. Afterward, peek inside the atom and explore subatomic particles, including fermions and the long-elusive Higgs boson.
20: Looks like a Particle, Acts like a Wave
Is light a wave or a particle? To find the answer, comb through revolutionary ideas by Max Planck and Albert Einstein to encounter the wave-particle duality (a paradox best captured by the famous Heisenberg principle). Then, investigate some of the applications of this duality, specifically through the development and use of lasers.
21: Quanta, Uncertainty, and a Cat
Quantum mechanics is full of strange contradictions, including a cat that is simultaneously alive and dead. Professor Viskontas introduces you to the Copenhagen Interpretation-the most popular (though still not universally accepted) way to think about this field. You'll also consider some of quantum mechanics' remarkable applications, from nanoscience to quantum computing.
22: String Theory, Membranes, and the Multiverse
What exactly is string theory? What can M-theory and the behavior of black holes reveal about it? How does the theory of Loop Quantum Gravity explain how gravity works at the quantum level? Answers to all this and more are here in this lecture on a mind-bending scientific concept.
23: Emergence-Simple Rules, Complex Systems
The science of emergence explains how simple agents together perform complex feats that are impossible for individual agents to accomplish on their own. Consider what emergence can tell us about seemingly chaotic scenarios through several case studies from wildlife, including ant colonies and flocks of birds.
24: Order out of Chaos
Continue your look at the most interesting ideas in emergence. First, learn about artificial intelligence and social robotics. Then, ponder the rise of the theory of mind and human self-awareness. Finally, discover how modern cities are emergent structures-and how we play the role of the simple agents that make them function.