Physics and Our Universe

An award-winning professor brings physics down to earth from everyday examples to universal principles.
Physics and Our Universe is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 84.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Totally fascinating; it covers it all This course takes the "student" thru the entire physics universe form the Newtons gravity thru particle and string theory physics.
Date published: 2021-09-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too early to know Courses like this suck for true believers in the Creator God. But, you take what you can out of them. I only give three stars because this is only the second lecture, so my rating is not from the perspective of my Christian belief. The instructor boasts in the first video that science has created a cell, within the context that the old schools of thought that it was impossible for life to originate by natural means. Meanwhile, not realizing that the so-called creation of the cell by science was done by an outside force, the scientist. Haha. If life was created randomly, by chance, then let’s see an experiment where the ingredients used are left totally alone.
Date published: 2021-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great examples Great for learning and getting into the field of physics
Date published: 2021-04-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course Excellent Course - I'm glad to see this here for sale an excellent course with lots of technical content and presented in a skilled way. The lecturer must have spent a very long time designing and arranging the demonstrations
Date published: 2021-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great survey of the physical world This is a really good comprehensive survey of a hoard of physics topics with micro experiments of natural phenomena thrown in. Each lecture moves along at a good clip.
Date published: 2021-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course Professor Wolfson's course is really a very comprehensive overview of introductory undergraduate physics. I am a graduate student in astrophysics (having completed my undergrad in economics/mathematics), and I was watching this course as a new perspective of key concepts in undergraduate physics. I am always seeking new understandings of key concepts in economics/mathematics/physics (many concepts I find to be very confusing, even as someone teaching parts of the content) and for my purpose this course was absolutely perfect. If you do not have a formal background in mathematics or physics (roughly at the introductory university level), this course seem as though it may be rather challenging as the professor works very quickly often through topics which are very nuanced and complex. I would say to anyone having this difficulty, watching similar lecture series in physics by Peter Dourmashkin or Walter Lewin (both from MIT, both available on Youtube) would be a fantastic companion to this course. Don't be afraid to watch (and rewatch) lectures multiple times, as many of the concepts here are terribly mind-boggling. (as famous mathematician/physicist John Von Neumann had said of the study "Young man, in mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them.") Aside from the difficulty, the professor is excellent at providing simple explanation (I have definitely gained valuable insight into a number of the topics) and often holds back on the complex calculation (he uses mostly an algebra based physics, as opposed to the much harder calculus or multivariable calculus based physics). Overall, this was a fantastic course and I cannot rate this course highly enough.
Date published: 2021-01-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Likes The Sound Of His Own Voice This course is designed to be quantitative, using SI units, requiring high school algebra and trigonometry but excluding calculus. Visuals including graphs and formulas are important. Be prepared to take notes or pause and replay. The problem with the presentation can be summed up: likes the sound of his own voice. I lost track of how many times the teacher mentioned he teaches basic classes. I had already figured that out from the bio. The lecturer oftens repeats the same thing many times requiring that he speakfasttofiteverythingin. But sometimes he does present ideas clearly and succinctly in logical phrases, so he can when he tries. A large number of simple demonstrations, although we are often required to accept the lecturer's description of the apparatus. Interesting and useful, but when he must speakfasttofiteverythingin, it detracts from the essential presentation. He usually provides a summary, presenting the essentials of the course. Having agreed to use the standard half-hour lecture format, the amount of material -including gaps to allow the listener to pause and confirm- to be covered in a lecture should have been carefully calculated. Recommended as a basic and broad introduction, if you have the patience to pick the good ideas out of the blather.
Date published: 2021-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Astounding scope Working my way through this set and am amazed at the scope of the course. I was liberal arts and had real problems keeping up with the math - and the language - involved in the sciences. The lecturer here takes this course step by step through the math - and the language - and makes it intelligible for a nervous nelly like me. High praise.
Date published: 2020-09-24
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Overview

Discover the beauty and simplicity of science's most fundamental branch with Physics and Our Universe: How It All Works. Intensively illustrated with diagrams, experiments, animations, graphs, and other visual aids, these 60 lectures by engaging and award-winning Professor Richard Wolfson introduce you to scores of fundamental ideas such as Newtonian mechanics, waves and fluids, thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, optics, and relativity and quantum theory.

About

Richard Wolfson
Richard Wolfson

Physics explains the workings of the universe at the deepest level, the everyday natural phenomena that are all around us, and the technologies that enable modern society. It's an essential liberal art.

INSTITUTION

Middlebury College

Dr. Richard Wolfson is the Benjamin F. Wissler Professor of Physics at Middlebury College, where he also teaches Climate Change in Middlebury's Environmental Studies Program. He completed his undergraduate work at MIT and Swarthmore College, graduating from Swarthmore with a double major in Physics and Philosophy. He holds a master's degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in Physics from Dartmouth.

Professor Wolfson's published work encompasses diverse fields such as medical physics, plasma physics, solar energy engineering, electronic circuit design, observational astronomy, theoretical astrophysics, nuclear issues, and climate change. His current research involves the eruptive behavior of the sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, as well as terrestrial climate change and the sun-Earth connection.

Professor Wolfson is the author of several books, including the college textbooks Physics for Scientists and Engineers, Essential University Physics,and Energy, Environment, and Climate. He is also an interpreter of science for the nonspecialist, a contributor to Scientific American, and author of the books Nuclear Choices: A Citizen's Guide to Nuclear Technology and Simply Einstein: Relativity Demystified.

By This Professor

Physics and Our Universe
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Understanding Modern Electronics
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Physics and Our Universe

Trailer

The Fundamental Science

01: The Fundamental Science

Take a quick trip from the subatomic to the galactic realm as an introduction to physics, the science that explains physical reality at all scales. Professor Wolfson shows how physics is the fundamental science that underlies all the natural sciences. He also describes phenomena that are still beyond its explanatory power.

31 min
Languages of Physics

02: Languages of Physics

Understanding physics is as much about language as it is about mathematics. Begin by looking at how ordinary terms, such as theory and uncertainty, have a precise meaning in physics. Learn how fundamental units are defined. Then get a taste of the basic algebra that is used throughout the course.

31 min
Describing Motion

03: Describing Motion

Motion is everywhere, at all scales. Learn the difference between distance and displacement, and between speed and velocity. Add to these the concept of acceleration, which is the rate of change of velocity, and you are ready to delve deeper into the fundamentals of motion.

28 min
Falling Freely

04: Falling Freely

Use concepts from the previous lecture to analyze motion when an object is under constant acceleration due to gravity. In principle, the initial conditions in such cases allow the position of the object to be determined for any time in the future, which is the idea behind Isaac Newton's "clockwork universe."

30 min
It's a 3-D World!

05: It's a 3-D World!

Add the concept of vector to your physics toolbox. Vectors allow you to specify the magnitude and direction of a quantity such as velocity. The vector's direction can be along any axis, allowing analysis of motion in three dimensions. Then use vectors to solve several problems in projectile motion.

29 min
Going in Circles

06: Going in Circles

Circular motion is accelerated motion, even if the speed is constant, because the direction, and hence the velocity, is changing. Analyze cases of uniform and non-uniform circular motion. Then close with a problem challenging you to pull out of a dive in a jet plane without blacking out or crashing.

30 min
Causes of Motion

07: Causes of Motion

For most people, the hardest part of learning physics is to stop thinking like Aristotle, who believed that force causes motion. It doesn't. Force causes change in motion. Learn how Galileo's realization of this principle, and Newton's later formulation of his three laws of motion, launched classical physics.

30 min
Using Newton's Laws-1-D motion

08: Using Newton's Laws-1-D motion

Investigate Newton's second law, which relates force, mass, and acceleration. Focus on gravity, which results in a force, called weight, that's proportional to an object's mass. Then take a ride in an elevator to see how your measured weight changes due to acceleration during ascent and descent.

32 min
Action and Reaction

09: Action and Reaction

According to Newton's third law, "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." Professor Wolfson has a clearer way of expressing this much-misunderstood phrase. Also, see several demonstrations of action and reaction, and learn about frictional forces through examples such as antilock brakes.

30 min
Newton's Laws in 2 and 3 Dimensions

10: Newton's Laws in 2 and 3 Dimensions

Consider Newton's laws in cases of two and three dimensions. For example, how fast does a rollercoaster have to travel at the top of a loop to keep passengers from falling out? Is there a force pushing passengers up as the coaster reaches the top of its arc? The answer may surprise you.

30 min
Work and Energy

11: Work and Energy

See how the precise definition of work leads to the concept of energy. Then explore how some forces "give back" the work done against them. These conservative forces lead to the concept of stored potential energy, which can be converted to kinetic energy. From here, develop the important idea of conservation of energy.

31 min
Using Energy Conservation

12: Using Energy Conservation

A dramatic demonstration with a bowling ball pendulum shows how conservation of energy is a principle you can depend on. Next, solve problems in complicated motion using conservation of energy as a shortcut. Close by drawing the distinction between energy and power, which are often confused.

30 min
Gravity

13: Gravity

Newton realized that the same force that makes an apple fall to the ground also keeps the moon in its orbit around Earth. Explore this force, called gravity, by focusing on circular orbits. End by analyzing why an orbiting spacecraft has to decrease its kinetic energy in order to speed up.

30 min
Systems of Particles

14: Systems of Particles

How do you analyze a complex system in motion? One special point in the system, called the center of mass, reduces the problem to its simplest form. Also learn how a system's momentum is unchanged unless external forces act on it. Then apply the conservation of momentum principle to analyze inelastic and elastic collisions.

30 min
Rotational Motion

15: Rotational Motion

Turn your attention to rotational motion. Rotational analogs of acceleration, force, and mass obey a law related to Newton's second law. This leads to the concept of angular momentum and the all-important -conservation of angular momentum, which explains some surprising and seemingly counterintuitive phenomena involving rotating objects.

33 min
Keeping Still

16: Keeping Still

What's the safest angle to lean a ladder against a wall to keep the ladder from slipping and falling? This is a problem in static equilibrium, which is the state in which no net force or torque (rotational force) is acting. Explore this condition and develop tools for determining whether equilibrium is stable or unstable.

30 min
Back and Forth-Oscillatory Motion

17: Back and Forth-Oscillatory Motion

Start a new section in which you apply Newtonian mechanics to more complex motions. In this lecture, study oscillations, a universal phenomenon in systems displaced from equilibrium. A special case is simple harmonic motion, exhibited by springs, pendulums, and even molecules.

32 min
Making Waves

18: Making Waves

Investigate waves, which transport energy but not matter. When two waves coexist at the same point, they interfere, resulting in useful and surprising applications. Also examine the Doppler effect, and see what happens when an object moves through a medium faster than the wave speed in that medium.

28 min
Fluid Statics-The Tip of the Iceberg

19: Fluid Statics-The Tip of the Iceberg

Fluid is matter in a liquid or gaseous state. In this lecture, study the characteristics of fluids at rest. Learn why water pressure increases with depth, and air pressure decreases with height. Greater pressure with depth causes buoyancy, which applies to balloons as well as boats and icebergs.

30 min
Fluid Dynamics

20: Fluid Dynamics

Explore fluids in motion. Energy conservation requires low pressure where fluid velocity is high, and vice versa. This relation between pressure and velocity results in many practical and sometimes counterintuitive phenomena, collectively called the Bernoulli effect-explaining why baseballs curve and how airplane speedometers work.

31 min
Heat and Temperature

21: Heat and Temperature

Beginning a new section, learn that heat is a flow of energy driven by a temperature difference. Temperature can be measured with various techniques but is most usefully quantified on the Kelvin scale. Investigate heat capacity and specific heat, and solve problems in heating a house and cooling a nuclear reactor.

29 min
Heat Transfer

22: Heat Transfer

Analyze heat flow, which involves three important heat-transfer mechanisms: conduction, which results from direct molecular contact; convection, involving the bulk motion of a fluid; and radiation, which transfers energy by electromagnetic waves. Study examples of heat flow in buildings and in the sun's interior.

31 min
Matter and Heat

23: Matter and Heat

Heat flow into a substance usually raises its temperature. But it can have other effects, including thermal expansion and changes between solid, liquid, and gaseous forms-collectively called phase changes. Investigate these phenomena, starting with an experiment in which Professor Wolfson pours liquid nitrogen onto a balloon filled with air.

30 min
The Ideal Gas

24: The Ideal Gas

Delve into the deep link between thermodynamics, which looks at heat on the macroscopic scale, and statistical mechanics, which views it on the molecular level. Your starting point is the ideal gas law, which approximates the behavior of many gases, showing how temperature, pressure, and volume are connected by a simple formula.

31 min
Heat and Work

25: Heat and Work

The first law of thermodynamics relates the internal energy of a system to the exchange of heat and mechanical work. Focus on isothermal (constant temperature) and adiabatic (no heat flow) processes, and see how they apply to diesel engines and the atmosphere.

31 min
Entropy-The Second Law of Thermodynamics

26: Entropy-The Second Law of Thermodynamics

Turn to an idea that has been compared to a work of Shakespeare: the second law of thermodynamics. According to the second law, entropy, a measure of disorder, always increases in a closed system. Order can only increase at the cost of even greater entropy elsewhere in the system.

31 min
Consequences of the Second Law

27: Consequences of the Second Law

The second law puts limits on the efficiency of heat engines and shows that humankind's energy use could be better planned. Learn why it makes sense to exploit low-entropy, high-quality energy for uses such as transportation, motors, and electronics, while using high-entropy random thermal energy for heating.

31 min
A Charged World

28: A Charged World

Embark on a new section of the course, devoted to electromagnetism. Begin by investigating electric charge, which is a fundamental property of matter. Coulomb's law states that the electric force depends on the product of the charges and inversely on the square of the distance between them.

32 min
The Electric Field

29: The Electric Field

On of the most important ideas in physics is the field, which maps the presence and magnitude of a force at different points in space. Explore the concept of the electric field, and learn how Gauss's law describes the field lines emerging from an enclosed charge.

31 min
Electric Potential

30: Electric Potential

Jolt your understanding of electric potential difference, or voltage. A volt is one joule of work or energy per coulomb of charge. Survey the characteristics of voltage-from batteries, to Van de Graaff generators, to thunderstorms, which discharge lightning across a potential difference of millions of volts.

31 min
Electric Energy

31: Electric Energy

Study stored electric potential energy in fuels such as gasoline, where the molecular bonds represent an enormous amount of energy ready to be released. Also look at a ubiquitous electronic component called the capacitor, which stores an electric charge, and discover that all electric fields represent stored energy.

29 min
Electric Current

32: Electric Current

Learn the definition of the unit of electric current, called the ampere, and how Ohm's law relates the current in common conductors to the voltage across the conductor and the conductor's resistance. Apply Ohm's law to a hard-starting car, and survey tips for handling electricity safely.

30 min
Electric Circuits

33: Electric Circuits

All electric circuits need an energy source, such as a battery. Learn what happens inside a battery, and analyze simple circuits in series and in parallel, involving one or more resistors. When capacitors are incorporated into circuits, they store electric energy and introduce time dependence into the circuit's behavior.

31 min
Magnetism

34: Magnetism

In this introduction to magnetism, discover that magnetic phenomena are really about electricity, since magnetism involves moving electric charge. Learn the right-hand rule for the direction of magnetic force. Also investigate how a current-carrying wire in a magnetic field is the principle behind electric motors.

29 min
The Origin of Magnetism

35: The Origin of Magnetism

No matter how many times you break a magnet apart, each piece has a north and south pole. Why? Search for the origin of magnetism and learn how magnetic field lines differ from those of an electric field, and why Earth has a magnetic field.

30 min
Electromagnetic Induction

36: Electromagnetic Induction

Probe one of the most fascinating phenomena in all of physics, electromagnetic induction, which shows the direct relationship between electric and magnetic fields. In a demonstration with moving magnets, see how the relative motion of a magnet and an electric conductor induces current in the conductor.

31 min
Applications of Electromagnetic Induction

37: Applications of Electromagnetic Induction

Survey some of the technologies that exploit electromagnetic induction: the electric generators that supply nearly all the world's electrical energy, transformers that step voltage up or down for different uses, airport metal detectors, microphones, electric guitars, and induction stovetops, among many other applications.

29 min
Magnetic Energy

38: Magnetic Energy

Study the phenomenon of self-inductance in a solenoid coil, finding that the magnetic field within the coil is a repository of magnetic energy, analogous to the electric energy stored in a capacitor. Close by comparing the complementary aspects of electricity and magnetism.

30 min
AC/DC

39: AC/DC

Direct current (DC) is electric current that flows in one direction; alternating current (AC) flows back and forth. Learn how capacitors and inductors respond to AC by alternately storing and releasing energy. Combining a capacitor and inductor in a circuit provides the electrical analog of simple harmonic motion introduced in Lecture 17.

31 min
Electromagnetic Waves

40: Electromagnetic Waves

Explore the remarkable insight of physicist James Clerk Maxwell in the 1860s that changing electric fields give rise to magnetic fields in the same way that changing magnetic fields produce electric fields. Together, these changing fields result in electromagnetic waves, one component of which is visible light.

30 min
Reflection and Refraction

41: Reflection and Refraction

Starting a new section of the course, discover that light often behaves as rays, which change direction at boundaries between materials. Investigate reflection and refraction, answering such questions as, why doesn't a dust mote block data on a CD? How do mirrors work? And why do diamonds sparkle?

31 min
Imaging

42: Imaging

See how curving a mirror or a piece of glass bends parallel light rays to a focal point, allowing formation of images. Learn how images can be enlarged or reduced, and the difference between virtual and real images. Use your knowledge of optics to solve problems in vision correction.

30 min
Wave Optics

43: Wave Optics

Returning to themes from Lecture 18 on waves, discover that when light interacts with objects comparable in size to its wavelength, then its wave nature becomes obvious. Examine interference and diffraction, and see how these effects open the door to certain investigations, while hindering others.

33 min
Cracks in the Classical Picture

44: Cracks in the Classical Picture

Embark on the final section of the course, which covers the revolutionary theories that superseded classical physics. Why did classical physics need to be replaced? Discover that by the late 19th century, inexplicable cracks were beginning to appear in its explanatory power.

30 min
Earth, Ether, Light

45: Earth, Ether, Light

Review the famous Michelson-Morley experiment, which was designed to detect the motion of Earth relative to a conjectured "ether wind" that supposedly pervaded all of space. The failure to detect any such motion revealed a deep-seated contradiction at the heart of physics.

31 min
Special Relativity

46: Special Relativity

Discover the startling consequences of Einstein's principle of relativity-that the laws of physics are the same for all observers in uniform motion. One result is that the speed of light is the same for all observers, no matter what their relative motion-an idea that overturns the concept of simultaneity.

30 min
Time and Space

47: Time and Space

Einstein's special theory of relativity upends traditional notions of space and time. Solve the simple formulas that show the reality of time dilation and length contraction. Conclude by examining the twins paradox, discovering why one twin who travels to a star and then returns ages more slowly than the twin back on Earth.

31 min
Space-Time and Mass-Energy

48: Space-Time and Mass-Energy

In relativity theory, contrary to popular views, reality is what's not relative-that is, what doesn't depend on one's frame of reference. See how space and time constitute one such pair, merging into a four-dimensional space-time. Mass and energy similarly join, related by Einstein's famous E = mc2.

31 min
General Relativity

49: General Relativity

Special relativity is limited to reference frames in uniform motion. Following Einstein, make the leap to a more general theory that encompasses accelerated frames of reference and necessarily includes gravity. According to Einstein's general theory of relativity, gravity is not a force but the geometrical structure of spacetime.

30 min
Introducing the Quantum

50: Introducing the Quantum

Begin your study of the ideas that revolutionized physics at the atomic scale: quantum theory. The word "quantum" comes from Max Planck's proposal in 1900 that the atomic vibrations that produce light must be quantized-that is, they occur only with certain discrete energies.

30 min
Atomic Quandaries

51: Atomic Quandaries

Apply what you've learned so far to work out the details of Niels Bohr's model of the atom, which patches one of the cracks in classical physics from Lecture 44. Although it explains the energies of photons emitted by simple atoms, Bohr's model has serious limitations.

31 min
Wave or Particle?

52: Wave or Particle?

In the 1920s physicists established that light and matter display both wave- and particle-like behavior. Probe the nature of this apparent contradiction and the meaning of Werner Heisenberg's famous uncertainty principle, which introduces a fundamental indeterminacy into physics.

31 min
Quantum Mechanics

53: Quantum Mechanics

In 1926 Erwin Schrödinger developed an equation that underlies much of our modern quantum-mechanical description of physical reality. Solve a simple problem with the Schrödinger equation. Then learn how the merger of quantum mechanics and special relativity led to the discovery of antimatter.

32 min
Atoms

54: Atoms

Drawing on what you now know about quantum mechanics, analyze how atoms work, discovering that the electron is not a point particle but behaves like a probability cloud. Investigate the exclusion principle, and learn how quantum mechanics explains the periodic table of elements and the principle behind lasers.

31 min
Molecules and Solids

55: Molecules and Solids

See how atoms join to make molecules and solids, and how this leads to the quantum effects that underlie semiconductor electronics. Also probe the behavior of matter in ultradense white dwarfs and neutron stars, and learn how a quantum-mechanical pairing of electrons at low temperatures produces superconductivity.

31 min
The Atomic Nucleus

56: The Atomic Nucleus

In the first of two lectures on nuclear physics, study the atomic nucleus, which consists of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons, held together by the strong nuclear force. Many combinations of protons and neutrons are unstable; such nuclei are radioactive and decay with characteristic half lives.

31 min
Energy from the Nucleus

57: Energy from the Nucleus

Investigate nuclear fission, in which a heavy, unstable nucleus breaks apart; and nuclear fusion, where light nuclei are joined. In both, the released energy is millions of times greater than the energy from chemical reactions and comes from the conversion of nuclear binding energy to kinetic energy.

31 min
The Particle Zoo

58: The Particle Zoo

By 1960 a myriad of seeming elementary particles had been discovered. Survey the standard model that restored order to this subatomic chaos, describing a universe whose fundamental particles include six quarks; the electron and two heavier cousins; elusive neutrinos; and force-carrying particles such as the photon.

30 min
An Evolving Universe

59: An Evolving Universe

Trace the discoveries that led astronomers to conclude that the universe began some 14 billion years ago in a big bang. Detailed measurements of the cosmic microwave background and other observations point to an initial period of tremendous inflation, followed by slow expansion and an as-yet inexplicable accelerating phase.

31 min
Humble Physics-What We Don't Know

60: Humble Physics-What We Don't Know

Having covered the remarkable discoveries in physics, turn to the great gap in our current knowledge, namely the nature of the dark matter and dark energy that constitute more than 95% of the universe. Close with a look at other mysteries that physicists are now working to solve.

32 min