Great Ideas of Classical Physics

Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Excellent exposition of basic ideas of Physics. Lecturer is keenly interested in explaining the course material so that the student can fully understand and appreciate their importance.
Date published: 2020-01-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not much content. This course is ok if you have never heard the term "Physics" and want to know what it means, and also if you have never had ANY instruction in Physics....... it may whet your appetite to take a "real" course. Could have used WAY MORE demonstrations.
Date published: 2019-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great professor This was such a great course and the professor goes into detail on the background of all the inventors. I love this course.
Date published: 2019-11-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Proof that Too Simple Exists I have also taken Dr. Pollock’s other course, “Particle Physics for Non-Physicists” and enjoyed it so much that I gave it a complete five-star review. Although he stayed away from math in that course, as he does in this one, I rarely felt that I was missing much, or that the material had been reduced to pabulum, given the intent and context of the course. To be fair, it is possible that as I knew the real math underlying particle physics was now beyond my capabilities and interest I was not put off. For me the course threaded a fine line between simplicity and complexity. However, in this course I always wanted more rigor. And this was primarily due to the no math policy of either TTC or Professor Pollock. In the end this course is just too simple. Most certainly an early high school course, perhaps given as a part of a General Science course for those students who are not particularly interested in science but who would benefit from having a broad understanding of why we know what we know about things like planetary motion. For sure anyone who went to the suggested web site and played around with the computer sims would get quite a bit more our of the course, but I think it only fair to judge the course on the material presented. OTOH, in the introduction Dr. Pollock discusses his list of readings and points toward Dr. Richard Feynman’s iconic lectures on physics, easily available on a number of sites. He cautions that these lectures were designed for college freshman and notes that they are “darned hard”. Just so, as the audience of incoming freshman are at Caltech, hardly your average freshman. Actually this is pretty funny as anyone who can manage Feynman’s lectures will have no use for this course. Of course a basic TC course on classical physics designed for an audience with no math cannot be compared to one for Caltech freshman, so I think that Dr. Pollock only includes a reference to this lecture set in order to satisfy those who purchased this course in error to have a fall back. Actually one can also watch the lectures on YouTube, although the visuals are poor. Still there are things in this course to praise. The overview of the development of physics from Aristotle up to the modern era is presented well. The usual developments are noted and explained in very broad terms. Maxwell gets two lectures and Newton three (and a bit more). I did not expect any calculus in the lectures on Newton and just presenting F = ma is ok. But really, the hand waving that went on with Maxwell’s equations was disturbing. We did get to see the equations, but not one term was defined when they were presented. Even so, the basic explanation on electromagnetism was as clear as it could be with no real math. I think that there is an audience for this course, but limited. The many positive reviews attest to this. But if you have a decent background in physics, even if it is many years ago, take one of the many other fine TC courses on physics, including Dr. Pollock’s other course.
Date published: 2019-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The enthusiasm of the professor came through the video and was implanted in me.
Date published: 2018-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Renew my knowledge of physics Very focus on the subjects and I renew my physics knowledge
Date published: 2018-07-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Just a history review Narrator was not acceptable, returned DVD for credit. Watched the first three sessions only.
Date published: 2018-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wish it was 36 lessons Great presentations. Covered many topics. Bought it to get my grandson ready for Physics at school but looked at it first. Two lessons on history, twenty-two lessons on physics. Very few equations, which is good. I wish it was 36 lessons. There is plenty more that could be said. In general, it was excellent.
Date published: 2018-03-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Problem I don't think you understand the concept of audio download, I want to listen in my car, not plugged into a computer. So I want to download the purchase so I can put it on a flash drive and plug into my car stereo
Date published: 2017-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I love it Great complicated subject was explained in the simplest way possible. I am an engineer and i never understood Maxwell equations before this course.
Date published: 2017-11-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from There's no on-line streaming though it says "video" and "watch now" next to the listing. Either get rid of the deceptive items or add the video.
Date published: 2017-09-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Great ideas of Classical Physics Terrible--You want it back? I needed a book on Physics, not a lecture on the developers of Physics.
Date published: 2017-08-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Needs graphics This review is only on the first DVD (12 lectures.) This review is a composite of two observers (one novice and one advanced.) To a novice, the material is presented with only verbal descriptions so it is difficult to absorb. Some simple dynamic graphics should be expected to illustrate the concepts. To an advanced viewer the lectures progress too slowly. I would recommend this only to a novice who has someone else to provide the details (interpret the verbal explanations.) The format of the presentation (only a simple lecture room with no blackboards or image presentation is not suited to this subject.) Other lecture series from the Great Courses have been excellent with this format of presentation.
Date published: 2017-06-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I have not yet viewed all course chapters, but to date I find the lectures engaging and helpful. I agree with other reviewers that the course material is quite basic and not as challenging as represented, however I was looking more for basic fundamentals and am not disappointed that the materials do not meet the standards for college prep physics. My one negative comment is that based on the other courses I had ordered this course would be streamed. However, only after I called customer serviced did I find that this course is one of the extremely few that cannot be streamed. This was quite disappointing as streaming is a most convenient way to go through the courses. I found nothing in the catalog that cautioned me otherwise. In my conversation with the customer service representative, I was told only that he was sorry, but nothing could be done. I had hoped that there would be some explanation why better disclosures could not have been made, to better help me decide whether this particular course would work for me.
Date published: 2017-06-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Should be more rigorous Professor Pollock is very engaging and charming and the subject matter is very interesting but I'm sorry to say I'm losing interest in this course. I don't want to watch a survey or casual description of these groundbreaking concepts in Physics. I want to know how to calculate velocity heat flow or whatever the topic is. It's quite frustrating to see Professor Pollock side-step the equations underlying the concepts he's describing. We get to hear about F=MA but don't use the equation to solve any problems, even in the Course Guidebook. Professor Pollock keeps referring to the things you'd be asked to do in an introductory Physics course. Isn't this an introductory Physics course? I'd thought and hoped it was. I would surely take another course taught by Professor Pollock if it is mathematically rigorous.
Date published: 2017-04-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed Given the description of the lecturer, I expected superior lectures. That's not what I found. The lectures were unfocussed, with poorly defined objectives. The language used was imprecise and inconsistent. Worst of all they were uninspiring. I gave better Physics lectures in the High School courses I taught.
Date published: 2017-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a wonder subject/professor. I always wanted to learn physics from way back in high school days, well over 40 years ago from the area of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The subject has always intrigued me. I only had to find the right teacher for me. Dr. Pollock presents this subject in a way that I can understand it now that I am ready to learn it. Thank you very much.
Date published: 2017-03-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A high School Level Course I liked the lecturer. He obviously had a deep understanding of his subject and really tried to make his subject matter interesting. However the course seemed to be something more suited to high school students as opposed to college students. It wasn't only that he assumed that the listeners had no physics background (and I mean none at all - not even middle school physics), but he assumed that his listeners had no math ability at all - he explained how he did basic multiplication. And when he talked about the theorems, he used analogies but never actually explained the theorems if they were any more complicated than F=MA. I can't say that I didn't enjoy the lectures, I just wish that he would have assumed the listener had (at least once) been accepted to college. This course is really suitable only for someone with no science background looking for the most basic introduction to physics.
Date published: 2017-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Course -- Highly Recommended I would give this course 6 stars if I could. The professor's presentation is astonishingly clear and intuitive. Without being hypertechnical, the course brought me a considerably deeper understanding of the subject. In particular, the explanation of Maxwell's Equations and their implications for electromagnetic radiation is the best I have ever seen. This course is superb both as a stand-alone or as a supplement to one with fuller quantitative and mathematical elaboration.
Date published: 2016-11-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from In a quandary I am confused. The course covers a interesting topic. The instructor has good training, teaches at a good school, and has received significant awards as well as a promotion (after the courdse was recorded). Conversely, my reaction would be to give the course two stars and the instructor one star. I'd even say, don't go to Boulder to study physics, though we all know that's not true. There is a big disconnect between the rating I would expect and my reaction to the course. So I compromised with three stars. To be fair, I have not read other reviews so see if I'm really off base here. You will need to form your own opinion of the course.
Date published: 2016-08-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from not for beginners I am male 55 years old hold a PhD from the London School of Economics and have been working for over 25 years as a professional economist. I must have watched 20-30 Great Courses over the past ten years. No exaggeration to say it has changed my life and given me great intellectual satisfaction. I consider this course as definitely the worst. No-one, no-one can hope to "learn" physics from scratch by watching this. If one knows physics already (as I do to first-year college level) one should be able to follow though the teacher's presentation is not really organized. Clearly the teacher does not lack depth but simply he does not attempt to explain clearly or give a systematic exposition. At this point it might be useful to reveal that I have watched three courses given by Professor Starbird (whom some reviewers criticize on grounds of poor organization) and I quite liked them! I'm no severe judge but Prof. Pollock is far worse! He seems to be an expert in creating confusion! The scarcity of graphics (and of a blackboard for that matter) not to mention the nearly complete absence of demonstrations of experiments is particularly ridiculous and makes for such a poor comparison with Prof. Wolfson's courses. The teacher indicates by gestures (!) what would have been (at least in the early 20th century) written out or sketched on a blackboard by chalk. He seems to believe that he successfully gets rid of math by describing(!) the equations in words (here goes the numerator, there the denominator, there's a weighted average, mentioned but never indicated on slides or on the non-existent blackboard). One can only hope to follow if one has seen the equations beforehand. Does the course, then, illustrate what physics is about and what it has achieved over the centuries even if not explaining physics as such? That would require a Sean Carroll and hundreds more pictures and graphics for starters. Electricity, notably Maxwell equations, waves and thermodynamics comes out somewhat better than mechanics (the first half of the course) which appears as the low point. Though Prof. Pollock appears as a very nice and enthusiastic person and a highly knowledgeable physicist, one cannot avoid the feeling that the course signals lack of respect for the viewer.
Date published: 2016-03-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from not a good purchase course is very slow. there has to be a better way to present this material. it takes the instructor forever to say anything.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Standing on the shoulders of giants The professor does an excellent job covering the classical physics concepts at a perfect pace for the layperson, and he does so without being awkwardly distracting or annoying (like some of the lecturers in other courses). This one and Dr. Novella's "Medical Myths, Lies, and Half Truths" are my two favorite courses so far. I'll go back and relisten to this again in a few years to review, because it's so interesting as well as important. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2015-12-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Burdensome Imagine your worse college professor- this is what kept coming to my mind. I went to a good university where the professor wrote the book. It was straight forward and understandable. In this course, talk and talk and talk and then finally gets to the point. The examples are poorly presented. It also has so many personal comments that add nothing to the material. There is some history of the development of physics. I would not recommend this to anyone.
Date published: 2014-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good overview I missed out on taking physics in school, but have always loved history. This course filled both categories. Though certainly not a substitute for the study of physics, it is a good overview of the genesis and development of major theories and points of understanding in physics.
Date published: 2014-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The title says it all. This is neither a quantitative course, nor a course for passive listening. If you are wondering whether or not you need the video version, I recommend audio with this one. If you want to hear a knowledgable professor give a logical progression of many of the great ideas of physics, with bits of historical context thrown in, then this course is for you.
Date published: 2014-01-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Gesticulation over the top Learning why religion and the church are bad will not help me on my next Physics exam. This presentation was juvenile. I can see the potential with this professor but he clearly has some issues that stand in the way of the subject-matter. I needed what was advertised. Horrible job. However I have bought many courses from this company and this is the first bad one for me.
Date published: 2013-09-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not enough substance This course was way too hand wavy for my taste. We got f=ma, but little else in the way of meat on the bones. Kepler's laws were so watered down as to be almost unrecognizable. Certainly I can see that Maxwell's equations would be a bit much for a course such as this, but the equation for gravitational attraction isn't beyond a layman's grasp. It seemed like the instructor spent more time talking about there being great ideas in classical physics than he did in actually presenting them.
Date published: 2013-03-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Nice overview While I enjoyed listening to the course, I have to agree with the other reviewers, that this course is not quite as deep and satisfying as Dr Pollock's other, Particle Physics, course or Dr Wolfson's Physics in Our Universe. This aside, the material is very well presented and can be appreciated by audience with dislike of math and interest in basic physics concepts.
Date published: 2013-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worthwhile Introduction or review Great Ideas of Classical Physics can be approached on a number of levels. This course works well as an introduction or a review of Classical Physics, as weel as a supplement for current students. It can be appreciated as a qualitative introduction and history of the development of Classical Physics. I would recommend Bernard Cohen’s “The Birth of a New Physics” from the bibliography if approaching it this way. For a review, after some years away from the classroom and math, it may be helpful to look at Cropper’s “Great Physicists” from the bibliography, and the PhET Simulations. It can be a supplement for current students, as an independent study prior to or during first year college physics and/or advanced placement high school with the Thinkwell online Physics calculus-based supplement, mentioned in the Course Book, which is available from a provider not related to TGC for a fee. One of the strengths of TGC, in my opinion, is the depth of levels that one can approach courses. Having the ability to review, delve into according to one’s interest, at one own’s pace makes these courses worthwhile for me. Professor Pollock is a good teacher and covers the material in an engaging way. No matter one’s background, I think this course is worth a look if you have an interest in Classical Physics.
Date published: 2012-12-16
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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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