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The Big Bang and Beyond: Exploring the Early Universe

Is our universe one of many? Are there extra dimensions we can’t see? Explore the deepest mysteries of the cosmos with a scientist looking for answers.
The Big Bang and Beyond: Exploring the Early Universe is rated 5.0 out of 5 by 5.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic series Please bring Dr. Felder back for more courses. Some of the best lectures I've seen on any topic. He did a great job of simplifying concepts for a layperson.
Date published: 2022-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My big bang This course was a big bang in my knowledge about science...thanks teacher!
Date published: 2022-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Masterful, Fascinating Intellectual Journey I'd like to report a shortcoming with The Great Courses web site functionality which requires immediate remediation: there doesn't seem to be a way to give a course a 6 star rating. And a 5 star rating for Professor Felder's masterpiece is doing him dirty. I'm 137 courses in to my journey with TGC and this may just be my most enjoyable course from a learning, entertainment, and stimulation perspective. What's most surprising about that statement is science is far from my area of interest (history is my passion). I usually shy away from science courses because I always find it a struggle to grasp scientific concepts or to find a topic that holds my interest. But after one lecture of this course I recognized this experience would be different. This course is a fascinating exploration of the events of our early universe shortly after the big bang, pieced together by a number of interesting theories some of which have been proven (inflation) and some of which have not (is the universe infinite? Are there multiple dimensions? How will the universe end?) but might add to the story of the how the early universe evolved. What sets this course apart is Professor Felder's stellar job of explaining complex scientific theories by employing a combination of comparisons, thought experiences, easy to understand terms, and visuals that make you say “I got it!” What an honor students must have to be in his courses. Most of the lectures he takes the approach of starting with a “problem” with a certain theory and then explaining possible solutions to that problem. What is most appreciated is that he takes the time (usually towards the end of the lecture) to go back through the story again: the problem, the solution, how it solves it, if it has been proven or not, and what other questions it might spawn or other answers it might provide. This summary (usually accompanied by a visual display of his top three points) really helps reinforce what was just discussed. I can't begin to articulate how much I've learned in this course---topics and concepts I would've struggled with no doubt in any other setting. Sure I'm a little confused on some topics like 1- why our telescopes are unable to see beyond our observable universe but they are able to see so far back in time to witness forming of the first galaxies and 2- what exactly a critical density value is and how it was derived (it is used in comparison to the actual density in the universe to determine if we live in a flat, closed, or open universe). But it reflects more on my beginner status than anything this course could've done better. So let's go through the list: I learned a tremendous amount from a professor that really knows how to explain and teach things to newbies like me, it has sparked my interest in Cosmology enough to want to learn more, it has caused me to contemplate and reflect many nights this past week, and it entertained and held my interest throughout (and that's saying something considering this isn't my natural area of interest!). Sounds like a life experience. This is the Great courses at its best and why they change people's lives. Job well done, professor, I hope to learn from you again in the future!
Date published: 2022-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course I have been interested in and studying cosmology most of my life (I'm 75) and this is the best, most concise, and clearest description of the evolution of the universe, from beginning to end, I have ever seen. And it includes all of the latest discoveries up to the present. I loved it! I was however left with 2 questions which were not addressed. 1) In Lesson 3 around the 2nd minute he explained how electromagnet energy greatly decreased as the universe expanded. But didn't explain why this does or doesn't violate the law of conservation of energy. And 2) The early universe was surely dense enough to be a black hole - from which nothing can escape - any yet everything did escape. How was that? And at what point in time did the early universe become less dense that a black hole? Thanks Wondrium and Gary Felder for a great course.
Date published: 2022-01-07
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Overview

Taught by Professor Gary Felder of Smith College, this course covers the history of the early universe starting with the Big Bang and continuing to the formation of the first stars and galaxies hundreds of millions of years later. Professor Felder also looks ahead to the ultimate fate of the universe and to speculation on what may have happened before the Big Bang.

About

Gary Felder
Gary Felder

The early universe is one of the most intellectually exciting fields that humans can explore.

INSTITUTION

Smith College

Gary Felder is a Professor of Physics at Smith College. He earned his BA in Physics with high honors at Oberlin College and Conservatory and his PhD in Physics at Stanford University. He completed postdoctoral work at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics in Toronto.

Gary has published papers in cosmology, nuclear physics, and education. One of his papers was selected as a highlight of the year by the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity, and another won the William Elgin Wickenden Award for the best paper of the year in the Journal of Engineering Education. He is the coauthor of two physics textbooks: Mathematical Methods in Engineering and Physics and Modern Physics.

Gary has given hundreds of public lectures, school demonstrations, and traveling science shows to audiences ranging from elementary schools to retirement communities. He has won grants from the National Science Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and bp. He received the Smith College Faculty Teaching Award, the only teaching award at Smith administered by students.

By This Professor

The Big Bang and Beyond: Exploring the Early Universe
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The Big Bang and Beyond: Exploring the Early Universe

Trailer

The Big Bang Changes Everything

01: The Big Bang Changes Everything

Explore the highlights of the Big Bang model, which says that the universe evolved from an initial hot, dense state billions of years ago. Find that the Big Bang wasn’t a moment when the cosmos had zero size, it didn’t take place at a special point in space, and it wasn’t necessarily the beginning of the universe. Rather, it was the energetic start of the expansion phase that is still underway.

33 min
The First Few Minutes of the Universe

02: The First Few Minutes of the Universe

Beginning a hundred-billionth of a second after the Big Bang, trace events as the universe quickly cooled from a quadrillion degrees. Learn about the strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces, and the fundamental particles—all of which precipitated from the seething cauldron of energy, even as matter and antimatter were mutually annihilating. Within 3 minutes, hydrogen and helium nuclei had begun to form.

28 min
First Galaxies, First Stars, and Dark Matter

03: First Galaxies, First Stars, and Dark Matter

Continue the story of the early universe by exploring such highlights as the formation of the first atoms at 370,000 years, when space transitioned from opaque to transparent; the accretion of hydrogen and helium gas into protogalaxies after millions of years due to the gravitational influence of dark matter; and the collapse of the gas into ever denser balls eventually leading to the first stars.

31 min
How Big Was the Big Bang?

04: How Big Was the Big Bang?

Is it possible to calculate the size of the universe at the instant of the Big Bang? Assemble the clues that scientists use to address this question. In the process, discover a number of remarkable properties of the universe, including that it must be bigger that what we can see, extending beyond the boundary that limits our knowledge due to the finite speed of light and the age of the universe.

31 min
Mysteries That Reshaped the Big Bang Model

05: Mysteries That Reshaped the Big Bang Model

Evaluate three mysteries connected to the Big Bang model that baffled theorists beginning in the late 1960s. Why was the early universe so uniform? Why does the universe obey the laws of geometry we teach in high school? And how did the universe come to be made of the kinds of particles we see and not others? A single solution to all three questions seemed too much to hope for, yet one turned up.

31 min
Inflation! The First Fraction of a Second

06: Inflation! The First Fraction of a Second

Dig into the bizarre theory of inflation developed by physicist Alan Guth, which holds that for a fraction of a second just after the Big Bang the universe expanded at a mind-boggling rate, making the cosmos effectively infinite. Analyze how this idea solves the three puzzles introduced in Lecture 5. Learn about associated concepts, such as the scalar field and its decay, known as “reheating.”

32 min
What Caused Inflation: The Scalar Field

07: What Caused Inflation: The Scalar Field

Can inflation possibly be true? See how a concept called a scalar field may be the inconceivably high-energy medium that spontaneously triggered inflation, leading to the observable universe—and more—in a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second. Probe a rival theory that the Big Bang was caused by the collision of two universes in four-dimensional space.

31 min
More than One Big Bang in a Multiverse?

08: More than One Big Bang in a Multiverse?

At one time, Earth was considered the center of the cosmos. Might the idea that the Big Bang was the beginning of everything be just as parochial? Take a mindboggling trip through the theory of eternal inflation—that our observable universe is a nearly infinitesimal speck inside a much larger, older, and eternally growing multiverse, in which inflation continually sprouts new universes like ours.

30 min
Other Universes across Other Dimensions?

09: Other Universes across Other Dimensions?

Many physicists believe that our universe really isn’t three dimensional, but only appears so to us. Explore what it would mean if there are extra dimensions that we can’t see. Learn how to visualize this counterintuitive state, and examine what it implies for Big Bang theory and the concept of a multiverse. One set of ideas that calls for at least nine dimensions is string theory.

31 min
The Origins of the Constants of Nature

10: The Origins of the Constants of Nature

Constants of nature, such as the gravitational constant, appear to be fine-tuned to make life possible. Is this a coincidence of astronomical unlikelihood, an expected outcome of the nature of the universe, or does it imply that ours is one of many universes with different properties? Consider this question in light of the anthropic principle which takes the existence of observers into account.

30 min
From the Big Bang to the Universe’s Fate

11: From the Big Bang to the Universe’s Fate

Learn that the ultimate fate of the universe is tied to its beginning—to the as-yet-unknown conditions that preceded the Big Bang. Focus on the importance of dark energy, an enigmatic force discovered in the 1990s that is causing the universe to expand at an accelerating rate. Compare three scenarios that lead to either infinite expansion or eventual collapse in a Big Crunch.

31 min
The Future of Early Universe Cosmology

12: The Future of Early Universe Cosmology

Conclude the course by reviewing the history of the universe, highlighting the major gaps in our knowledge. Then turn to four promising areas of experimental research that may provide answers. Let your imagination soar by contemplating theoretical possibilities such as this one: Could we exploit inflation to create a baby universe in the lab? Do we, in fact, live in someone else’s baby universe?

34 min