Great Ideas of Classical Physics

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Will inspire nerds, young, and old. I bought these lectures to brush up on the basics of electrodynamics (everything from Coulomb to Maxwell) so could attend another course. But this professor was so engaging that I started back at lecture #1 (what a treat). I recommend this course for ALL modern citizens.
Date published: 2021-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best science classes, so interesting and fascinating
Date published: 2021-01-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from slow I took Mechanics of Physics over 60 years ago so I thought to see what was new. I thought I was in a new age course and the material was not just slow but disorganized, presented as though his teleprompter was in spasm. I dug out my old text ca. 1956 and found it covered in two pages clearly what the course took 4 chapters. SAD
Date published: 2020-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Professor Covers the basics very well. Enjoyable watching a guy who clearly enjoys physics so much.
Date published: 2020-10-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Your Mileage May Vary This course has a wider spread of review ratings than most, so I suggest looking through some from each level before deciding. For me, the course was greatly disappointing. Most importantly, the physics presented is not only extremely basic - what I would consider junior high school level - but often superficially discussed and sometimes unclear. As just one example (yes, I know I can be accused of cherry-picking), in discussing the combination of hydrogen and oxygen gases to form water vapor in Lecture 21, the volume of each amount of gas is treated as if it were a constant. This is only true under conditions of constant temperature and pressure, which was not mentioned. As one more, when Avogadro's number is briefly mentioned in the same lecture, it is not clearly defined or explained. Even at a basic level, I would have appreciated far more precision and depth of explanation. I also found our professor, while an enthusiastic teacher with an entirely pleasant and winning personality, to be rambling and disjointed in his presentation. Organization is lacking. He speaks in a stream-of-consciousness style, as if at an informal dinner at which he was unexpectedly asked to describe various areas of classical physics to a completely inexperienced group at his table. It was also extraordinary how few visual aids are presented to help explain the many physical concepts. Instead we mostly have to rely on rather amusing attempts to illustrate such ideas as force, energy, and momentum with hand gestures. (This can be attributed to the fact that this is a relatively early Great Course; illustrations in more recent courses are usually excellent, but this does not diminish the frustration here.) One aspect of the course that I did very much enjoy was the historical background given for many of the developments. This is necessarily brief, but I found it fascinating to have these key physical ideas placed and explained in the context of the individuals and intellectual environments involved. Again, please keep in mind that many reviewers loved this course! If you are looking for a very informal and relaxed introduction to very basic physics, with close to zero mathematics, this may be just what you want. If you take it, please review!
Date published: 2020-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative Great course, I learned alot, instructor was very knowledgeable.
Date published: 2020-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A+ all the way I have bought and watched literally score of Great Courses over the past couple of decades, and I would rank this course in the top five. My rating is on the skill professor Pollock has is breaking down complicated topics into small understandable pieces, and then showing how they all relate to each other. A very good introduction to a person without a strong science background by a superb lecturer.
Date published: 2020-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding presentation of material. This is my second course from you and I am reinforcing my skills in Classical Physics.
Date published: 2020-01-18
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The Great Ideas of Classical Physics
1: The Great Ideas of Classical Physics

Professor Pollock opens the course with an overview of the domain of classical physics: forces and motion, matter and energy, space and time, and particles and waves.

34 min
Describing Motion - A Break from Aristotle
2: Describing Motion - A Break from Aristotle

Greek natural philosophers made enormous progress 2,000 years ago but missed something essential in their analysis of nature - the scientific method. This lecture examines Galileo's challenge to ancient ideas.

30 min
Describing Ever More Complex Motion
3: Describing Ever More Complex Motion

Galileo's study of marbles rolling down ramps led to a distinction between velocity and acceleration. Acceleration is one of the paradigmatic ideas in physics, relating to the concept of rate of change.

31 min
Astronomy as a Bridge to Modern Physics
4: Astronomy as a Bridge to Modern Physics

Speculations on Earth's place in the universe, the nature of planets, and the structure of the solar system were at the heart of the development of classical physics. This lecture looks at the work of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo.

30 min
Isaac Newton - The Dawn of Classical Physics
5: Isaac Newton - The Dawn of Classical Physics

The turning point in the development of classical physics traces to Isaac Newton. This lecture covers Newton's background and the first two of his laws of motion, involving inertia (mass), acceleration, and force.

30 min
Newton Quantified - Force and Acceleration
6: Newton Quantified - Force and Acceleration

The master idea for this course is Newton's statement of the relationship between force and acceleration: F = ma. This formula determines almost all of classical physics. It is at once simple and deep.

31 min
Newton and the Connections to Astronomy
7: Newton and the Connections to Astronomy

Thinking about circular motion led Newton to an understanding of planetary motion, closing the loop with Galileo, Kepler, and Copernicus, and making sense of a Sun-centered solar system and its connection to everyday motion.

30 min
Universal Gravitation
8: Universal Gravitation

Newton's deduction of the law of gravity involved some speculation, just a little math, and a lot of creativity. Remarkably, it succeeded in unifying terrestrial and celestial phenomena into one framework.

30 min
Newton's Third Law
9: Newton's Third Law

Newton's third law of motion ("for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction") can be exasperatingly counterintuitive at first, but it makes perfect sense in terms of a new quantity, momentum.

29 min
Conservation of Momentum
10: Conservation of Momentum

Introducing the concept of momentum broadens the power of physics and results in the Newtonian world-view of the universe as a deterministic clockwork, based on only a few basic underlying and unified principles.

31 min
Beyond Newton - Work and Energy
11: Beyond Newton - Work and Energy

A century after Newton, a new concept more abstract than force gained popularity: energy. Energy forms the basis of understanding everything from chemistry and biology to geology and engineering.

30 min
Power and the Newtonian Synthesis
12: Power and the Newtonian Synthesis

The concept that energy can move from place to place and change forms helps explain why things behave as they do. The rate at which energy flows from one system to another (the power) explains even more.

30 min
Further Developments - Static Electricity
13: Further Developments - Static Electricity

In Newton's day, electricity and magnetism were mere curiosities. By the 19th century, serious investigation into these phenomena began. Though heralded as "new" forces of nature, they still fit within the Newtonian framework.

31 min
Electricity, Magnetism, and Force Fields
14: Electricity, Magnetism, and Force Fields

In his studies of electricity and magnetism, Michael Faraday introduced the radical idea of the force "field." Sources create a field around them, and other objects then respond locally to that field.

31 min
Electrical Currents and Voltage
15: Electrical Currents and Voltage

This lecture covers electrical concepts such as charge, voltage, and current. Progress in understanding electricity in the 19th century led to rapid developments in applied physics.

31 min
The Origin of Electric and Magnetic Fields
16: The Origin of Electric and Magnetic Fields

Electricity and magnetism are distinct but intimately related. This lecture explores the myriad connections between them, leading to a deeper understanding of the unity of electromagnetic physics.

31 min
Unification I - Maxwell's Equations
17: Unification I - Maxwell's Equations

In one of the great triumphs of classical physics, James Clerk Maxwell summarized two centuries of research on electricity and magnetism in four famous equations, explained here in words and concepts.

30 min
Unification II - Electromagnetism and Light
18: Unification II - Electromagnetism and Light

Published in the 1860s, Maxwell's equations made a startling prediction: Electric and magnetic fields should interact to produce electromagnetic waves - of which visible light is only a tiny range of a vast spectrum.

31 min
Vibrations and Waves
19: Vibrations and Waves

Vibrations and the associated phenomenon of waves are everywhere in the natural world. Understanding the big ideas of waves plays a key role in the developing story of physics.

30 min
Sound Waves and Light Waves
20: Sound Waves and Light Waves

One hundred years after Newton described light as a stream of particles, Thomas Young turned the world of optics on its head when he demonstrated that light was not made of particles but was in fact a wave phenomenon.

32 min
The Atomic Hypothesis
21: The Atomic Hypothesis

Atoms provide a unifying principle even greater than Maxwell's equations. Energy, structure of materials, chemistry, heat, optics, and much more become simpler to describe and explain at a fundamental level.

29 min
Energy in Systems - Heat and Thermodynamics
22: Energy in Systems - Heat and Thermodynamics

Thermodynamics is the study of heat and energy. When there are large numbers of particles, average quantities become easier, not more difficult, to predict. This is the heart of thermodynamics.

31 min
Heat and the Second Law of Thermodynamics
23: Heat and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

One of the last great developments of classic physics was the discovery of a new property of systems, entropy, defined colloquially as "you can't win, you can't break even, and you can't get out of the game."

31 min
The Grand Picture of Classical Physics
24: The Grand Picture of Classical Physics

Classical physics is defined in part historically and in part by a philosophical outlook: The world is ordered, and there is a limited set of fundamental ideas that explain and predict all natural phenomena.

31 min
Steven Pollock

I feel inspired by Michael Faraday (in 1857!): 'When a mathematician has arrived at his conclusions, may they not be expressed in … common language? Would it not be a great boon?... I think it must be so.


Stanford University


University of Colorado, Boulder

About Steven Pollock

Dr. Steven Pollock is Professor of Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He earned his B.S. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his master's degree and Ph.D. in Physics from Stanford University. Prior to taking his position at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Professor Pollock was a senior researcher at the National Institute for Nuclear and High Energy Physics. In 2013, Professor Pollock was honored with a U.S. Professor of the Year award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He is also the recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship and the University of Colorado?s Boulder Faculty Assembly Teaching Excellence Award. He has taught a wide variety of physics courses at all levels, from introductory physics to advanced nuclear and particle physics, with an intriguing recent foray into the physics of energy and the environment. Professor Pollock is the author of the multimedia textbook Physics I. He became a Pew/Carnegie National Teaching Scholar in 2001, and is a member of the American Physical Society-Nuclear Physics Division and the American Association of Physics Teachers. He has presented both nuclear physics research and his scholarship on teaching at numerous conferences, seminars, and colloquia.

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