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Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition

With scientists perhaps on the verge of unlocking the deepest secrets of the universe and with breaking news of discovery after discovery at the frontiers of research, understanding physics has never been so important.
Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 211.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Advanced Physics without the math I've taken many physics courses, and they come at different levels. Some just touch on the richness of the subject, and others bury you in mathematics hardly anyone really understands. This course tends toward the former, with virtually no mathematics but some cogent explanations for subjects generally considered difficult. If that is the level desired, I would criticize this course only because it is a bit dated, but otherwise excellent.
Date published: 2024-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Which Physics Course for Non-Scientists? Both this course and “Particle Physics for Non-Physicists" by Pollock cover approximately the same material. This course is dated 2000 and Pollock’s 2003. Both ended their courses before scientific confirmation of the Higgs Boson particle. This review will try to compare the two courses to help readers choose what best fits their interests. PRESENTATION: Pollock's presentation is better characterized as a story than a history of our increasingly accurate understanding of the particle nature of the universe. Wolfson uses both story-telling and historical approaches. Wolfson’s biggest presentation strength is anticipating his students’ questions. It almost seemed as if he and I were in the same room and every time my face became questioning, Wolfson brought my exact question up, answered it simply - oftentimes accompanied by a demonstration. And his demonstrations were VERY clever: he'd get a few common objects out, describe what was going on in terms of the physics and suddenly your mind picks up an abstract from such everyday objects. While both professors answered questions well, it seemed as if Wolfson remembers every student blunder and goes out of his way to anticipate them. POLLOCK: My chemistry/math-background actually made it more difficult to transition to his later lectures. Lecture 9 was the overload boundary for me. So I returned the audio form of the course and got the video (recommended). This helped me stop trying to inopportunely assimilate prior knowledge and let Pollock run the show. Pollock is such a good storyteller that one should enjoy (rather than dissect). Pollocks’ illustrations were sparse (though excellent) but really can’t compete with Wolfson's graphics or demonstrations. WOLFSON is animated, enthusiastic, and speech-pressured (due to his continuous, helpful restatements of facts from all sorts of viewpoints). While I had some dread before approaching multiple lectures on the same night due to the amount of information presented, such dread was misplaced. Though Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is one of the pillars of modern scientific thought, Wolfson’s conclusion cemented into my brain the concept that “we leave a record of all we've done". Wolfson immediately anticipates his student’s potential next thought: some would wonder not only about the historical but also about the theological implications of this irreversibly embedded system. Both of us were humble enough to understand that this exists but is beyond our skill level. Wolfson’s Lecture 20 on quantum tunneling was a good example of him presenting ideas as “best known explanation" instead of as incontrovertible facts. COMMENTS: 1.) Neither course really requires a Transcript despite the subject. Wolfson’s Guidebook is only 136 pages of course review vs.158 for Pollock but is extremely well written. Another VERY helpful Wolfson technique was to provide Guidebook pictures of the most important slides and concise explanatory notes below the slide that makes review a breeze. 2.) In my prior Pollock review, I wrote “The evolution of physicality from such a precisely tuned process is better described in TGC's "Origin and Evolution of Earth" by Hazen (L2, L3)”. On the other hand, Wolfson’s review of the universe’s creation process in Lecture 23 (L23) covered Hazen’s material but with a more particle physics POV. That the universe became TRANSPARENT at a half million years because electrons could surround nuclei was a previously unappreciated event (for myself). Wolfson (L22) telling the story of why UHF TV empty channel “fuzzy dot” background pixelation includes remnants of cosmic background radiation was done unforgettably. FINAL COMPARISONS: My review of Pollock’s course (“Explaining the Magic” dated December 2021) noted that some reviewers were unhappy that Pollock didn’t include more math. Wolfson, conversely, has almost no math and thus may reach a wider audience. My personal course order would be Wolfson before Pollock.
Date published: 2023-12-12
Rated 1 out of 5 by from New Release???? This program was recorded 23 years ago! How is this a new release? How about some new science programs, especially in human physiology, traditional health concepts, exercise science, anthropology. Most of the programs now available are very dated and the new offerings are old programs that are being promoted as a compensation for a lack of viable new releases.
Date published: 2023-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Done The instructor does an excellent job of communicating the ideas behind relativity and quantum mechanics. This is not a technical course - it is primarily presented qualitatively and provides many tangible examples. I believe it helped me to better visualize the ideas and for that I am thankful. It is dated; but I do not think that detracts because the ideas are timeless.
Date published: 2022-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution Really great seminar. As a Chemist I kind of figured some of these things out, but after watching the seminar, the real answer blew my mind. Very Great Series.
Date published: 2022-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great way to introduce you to modern physics I'm really interested to learn about modern physics and how the universe works, this course is a great introduction to understand this two great but incompatible theories. Professor Richard Wolfson taught the course in an easy to understand way with almost zero mathematics, all 24 lectures are really interesting to learn. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2022-07-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Old but relavent Ancient and Classical physic doesn't change much so information still relevant. Worry 20 plus year old course doesn't include recent knowledge. Presentation method dated and trying to make audio version useful has limited graphics use.
Date published: 2022-07-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great information. I am approx 1/3 thru the course. I like the repetition because it makes the important info sink in. The professor sometimes speaks a little too fast, but generally the rate is ok. The information presented is what I wanted, and the level is right for me. The illustrations certainly help. It has been a while since the material was updated, so an update may be appropriate. Thanks for an enjoyable course. (I am 79 years old with post graduate degrees, but much has changed since my college days).
Date published: 2022-06-24
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With scientists perhaps on the verge of unlocking the deepest secrets of the universe and with breaking news of discovery after discovery at the frontiers of research, understanding physics has never been so important. This course puts the awe-inspiring—and at times mind-bending—concepts behind relativity and quantum mechanics within reach of anyone who wants to understand them.


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.


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
Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition
Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition


Time Travel, Tunneling, Tennis, and Tea

01: Time Travel, Tunneling, Tennis, and Tea

What are the two big ideas of modern physics? How can nonscientists gain a handle on these ideas and the radical changes they bring to our philosophical thinking about the physical world?

31 min
Heaven and Earth, Place and Motion

02: Heaven and Earth, Place and Motion

Understanding motion is the key to understanding space and time. Is there a "natural" state of motion? Learn why the ancients gave different answers to this question, and how Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo laid the foundation for a new approach.

30 min
The Clockwork Universe

03: The Clockwork Universe

Isaac Newton was born in 1642, the year that Galileo died. You'll learn how he built on the work of Galileo and Kepler, developing the three laws of motion and the concept of universal gravitation. You'll learn why Newton's laws suggest a universe that runs like a clock.

31 min
Let There Be Light!

04: Let There Be Light!

The study of motion is not all there is to physics. By the 18th century, scientists were delving into the relationship between the two phenomena. Today, electromagnetism is known to be responsible for the chemical interactions of atoms and molecules and all of modern electronic technology.

30 min
Speed—Relative to What?

05: Speed—Relative to What?

In mechanics (the branch of physics that studies motion), the principle of Galilean relativity holds—meaning that the laws of mechanics are the same for anything in uniform motion. Is the same true for the laws of electromagnetism?

30 min
Earth and the Ether—A Crisis in Physics

06: Earth and the Ether—A Crisis in Physics

In the 1880s, Albert Michelson and Edward Morley conducted an experiment to determine the motion of Earth relative to the ether. You'll learn about their experiment, its shocking result, and the resulting theoretical crisis.

30 min
Einstein to the Rescue

07: Einstein to the Rescue

In 1905 a young Swiss patent clerk named Albert Einstein resolved the crisis that flowed from the Michelson-Morley result. When Einstein discarded the ether concept and asserted that the principle of relativity holds for all of physics, mechanics as well as electromagnetism, he was making a simple claim with almost unimaginably profound implications.

30 min
Uncommon Sense—Stretching Time

08: Uncommon Sense—Stretching Time

Why does the simple statement of relativity—that the laws of physics are the same for all observers in uniform motion—lead directly to absurd-seeming situations that violate our commonsense notions of space and time?

31 min
Muons and Time-Traveling Twins

09: Muons and Time-Traveling Twins

As a dramatic example of what relativity implies, you will consider a thought experiment involving a pair of twins, one of whom goes on a journey to the stars and returns to Earth younger than her sister!

30 min
Escaping Contradiction—Simultaneity Is Relative

10: Escaping Contradiction—Simultaneity Is Relative

If, as relativity implies, "moving clocks run slow," who's to say which clock is moving?

30 min
Faster than Light? Past, Future, and Elsewhere

11: Faster than Light? Past, Future, and Elsewhere

Relativity implies that the time order of events can be different in different reference frames. Does this wreak havoc with cause and effect? Finally, why is it that nothing can go faster than light?

30 min
What about E=mc² and Is Everything Relative?

12: What about E=mc² and Is Everything Relative?

Shortly after publishing his 1905 paper on special relativity, Einstein realized that his theory required a fundamental equivalence between mass and energy, which he expressed in the equation E=mc2. Among other things, this famous formula means that the energy contained in a single raisin could power a large city for an entire day.

31 min
A Problem of Gravity

13: A Problem of Gravity

Historically, the path to general relativity followed Einstein's attempt to incorporate gravity into relativity theory, which led to his understanding of gravity not as a force, but as a local manifestation of geometry in curved spacetime.

30 min
Curved Spacetime

14: Curved Spacetime

What causes spacetime to curve? Einstein's theory of relativity offers an answer, but for decades after he published it, there were only a few, very subtle tests of its validity. How has modern astrophysics changed all that?

30 min
Black Holes

15: Black Holes

General relativity is similar to Newtonian gravitation except in the case of very dense objects such as collapsed stars. Learn why they are called black holes.

30 min
Into the Heart of Matter

16: Into the Heart of Matter

With this lecture, you turn from relativity to explore the universe at the smallest scales. By the early 1900s, Ernest Rutherford and colleagues showed that atoms consist of a positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged electrons whirling around it. But Rutherford's model could not explain all the observed phenomena.

31 min
Enter the Quantum

17: Enter the Quantum

The "stuff" of the universe—matter and energy—is not continuously subdividable but comes in discrete "chunks." This fundamental graininess of the universe has profound implications for the behavior of matter and energy at the smallest scales.

30 min
Wave or Particle?

18: Wave or Particle?

Einstein's resolution of the photoelectric effect problem suggests that light consists of particles (photons). But how can this be reconciled with the understanding of light as an electromagnetic wave?

30 min
Quantum Uncertainty—Farewell to Determinism

19: Quantum Uncertainty—Farewell to Determinism

Quantization places severe limits on our ability to observe nature at the atomic scale because it implies that the act of observation disturbs that which is being observed. The result is Werner Heisenberg's famous Uncertainty Principle. What exactly does this principle say, and what are the philosophical implications?

31 min
Particle or Wave?

20: Particle or Wave?

In 1923, Louis de Broglie proposed that, like light photons, particles of matter might also display wave properties. The wave nature of smaller particles such as electrons is quite visible and leads to many unusual phenomena, including quantum tunneling mentioned in Lecture 1.

31 min
Quantum Weirdness and Schrödinger's Cat

21: Quantum Weirdness and Schrödinger's Cat

Wave-particle duality gives rise to strange phenomena, some of which are explored in Schrödinger's famous "cat in the box" example. Philosophical debate on Schrödinger's cat still rages.

30 min
The Particle Zoo

22: The Particle Zoo

Are quarks, the particles that make up protons and neutrons, the truly elementary particles? What are the three fundamental forces that physicists identify as holding particles together? Are they manifestations of a single, universal force?

30 min
Cosmic Connections

23: Cosmic Connections

Why does physicist Freeman Dyson think that intelligence may persist into the infinite future, even as the universe evolves through an unimaginable richness of new forms and structures?

31 min
Toward a Theory of Everything

24: Toward a Theory of Everything

Why can't we answer questions about what happened before the Big Bang, or what goes on at the center of a black hole? Can we manage the formidable task of combining quantum physics with general relativity? Physics may well be the most important subject in the universe, a theoretical realm that ranges from the infinitesimally small to the infinitely vast, its laws governing time, space, and the forces that created our world.

32 min