Physics and Our Universe: How It All Works Series

The Great Courses
Show More

60 episodes in this series

Episode 1 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…
Episode 2 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.…
Episode 3 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…
Episode 4 Falling Freely
Use concepts from the previous episode to analyze motion when an object is under constant acceleration due to gravity. In principle, the initial conditions in such cases allow the position…
Episode 5 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…
Episode 6 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…
Episode 7 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…
Episode 8 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…
Episode 9 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 17 Back and Forth: Oscillatory Motion
Start a new section in which you apply Newtonian mechanics to more complex motions. In this episode, study oscillations, a universal phenomenon in systems displaced from equilibrium. A special case…
Episode 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…
Episode 19 Fluid Statics: The Tip of the Iceberg
Fluid is matter in a liquid or gaseous state. In this episode, study the characteristics of fluids at rest. Learn why water pressure increases with depth, and air pressure decreases…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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.…
Episode 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…
Episode 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)…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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,…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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,…
Episode 43 Wave Optics
Returning to themes from episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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.…
Episode 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…
Episode 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 episode 44.…
Episode 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…
Episode 53 Quantum Mechanics
In 1926 Erwin Schrodinger developed an equation that underlies much of our modern quantum-mechanical description of physical reality. Solve a simple problem with the Schrodinger equation. Then learn how the…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 56 The Atomic Nucleus
In the first of two episodes on nuclear physics, study the atomic nucleus, which consists of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons, held together by the strong nuclear force.…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…
Episode 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…

Related videos

Oscillations and Simple Harmonic Motion - Part 2
This program covers the important topic of oscillations (part 2) and simple harmonic motion in Physics. We begin by discussing how oscillations arise in nature and how everyday processes such as pendulums lead to simple harmonic motion. We also discuss how this motion can be modeled by a sinusoid. The…
Oscillations and Simple Harmonic Motion - Part 1
This program covers the important topic of oscillations (part 1) and simple harmonic motion in Physics. We begin by discussing how oscillations arise in nature and how everyday processes such as pendulums lead to simple harmonic motion. We also discuss how this motion can be modeled by a sinusoid. The…
Oscillations and Simple Harmonic Motion - Part 3
This program covers the important topic of oscillations (part 3) and simple harmonic motion in Physics. We begin by discussing how oscillations arise in nature and how everyday processes such as pendulums lead to simple harmonic motion. We also discuss how this motion can be modeled by a sinusoid. The…
The Higgs Boson and Beyond Course
The discovery of the Higgs boson is a triumph of modern physics. The hunt for the Higgs was the subject of wide media attention due to the cost of the project, the complexity of the experiment, and the importance of its result. And, when it was announced with great fanfare…
The Science of Energy - Resources and Power Explained
Energy is, without a doubt, the very foundation of the universe. It's the engine that powers life and fuels the evolution of human civilization. Yet for all its importance, what energy really is and how it works remains a mystery to most non-scientists. For example:
  • Where does most of…
Back and Forth: Oscillatory Motion
Start a new section in which you apply Newtonian mechanics to more complex motions. In this episode, study oscillations, a universal phenomenon in systems displaced from equilibrium. A special case is simple harmonic motion, exhibited by springs, pendulums, and even molecules.
Complexity and Life
Discover that Maxwell's demon from episode 10 provides the key to understanding how complexity and life can exist in a universe in which entropy is increasing. Consider how life is not only compatible with, but is an outgrowth of, the second law of thermodynamics and the arrow of time.
Mysteries of Modern Physics: Time Series
Time seems to be woven into the very fabric of the universe. But why? In 24 riveting half-hour episodes, Mysteries of Modern Physics: Time shows how a feature of the world that we all experience connects us to the instant of the formation of the universe--and possibly to a multiverse…
Colliding Particles
Once physicists established the need for the Higgs boson to exist, how did they set out to locate it? It was just a matter of bringing the particles and fields together under the right conditions. You'll see how physicists use Feynman diagrams to keep track of how virtual particles carry…
The Hunt for Higgs
Part of the Series: Horizon
Symmetry, the universe and everything Horizon goes behind the scenes at CERN to follow one of the most epic and expensive scientific quests of all time: the search for the elusive Higgs particle. It is believed to gives mass to everything in our universe. But the hunt for Higgs is…
Inexplicable Cosmology
Brace yourself for a fascinating trip through dimensions higher than our own. You'll discover how quantum physics and string theory have opened our eyes to the possibilities of quantum foam, the multiverse, and antimatter. Join Professor Tyson for a preview of the fate of the universe (including the collision of…