Impossible: Physics Beyond the Edge

Rated 4 out of 5 by from interesting intro to physics The material covered is basically what one learns in senior-year-in-high-school physics and freshman-year physics in college. Accordingly, I learned only two new concepts. But the professor is engaging and the "impossible" approach is a unique approach to presenting physics.
Date published: 2021-02-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good overall! I've been a long time fan of the teaching company. Unfortunately, I'm not financially able to purchase all of the courses that I would like to. This course definitely made me think in a different way, and that's always good intellectually. The professor covers a very wide area,from black holes to quarks,while giving a history of where and who the original ideas/theories came from. Very well taught and presented as a lesson.I enjoyed this course immensely.Thank you very much giving me this opportunity to increase my knowledge about subjects I'm really interested in...keep up the great work!
Date published: 2020-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well organized and delivered Course is divided into three classes of impossibility: logical impossibility,derived impossibility, and statistical impossibility. All are addressed.
Date published: 2020-02-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent way to revisit other physics courses. Not only interesting but a great review of the many Great Courses I have taken over the past several months. I received my advanced degree in physics in 1963. I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to catch up through your "GREAT COURSES".
Date published: 2020-02-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from loved the course The professor is very boring to watch. If you can get by watching the professor you will enjoy the course. He is just not an engaging or animated talker.
Date published: 2020-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Course I had been waiting to purchase this course as I want to learn more about physics in a relative simple-paced manner. This course delivers!
Date published: 2018-09-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from poorly explained with limited graphics 14 August 2018 Great Courses Impossible: Physics beyond the edge # 1299 Interesting idea, but poorly explained. Seems like he had an assignment to make a quickie course on some quantum topics. Made in 2010, now 2018 is outdated in several topics. Presentation is OK, but needs more graphics, tables, etc. Seems to assume that the listener has almost no background in modern physics. 1. Chapter 3 on perpetual motion – poor explanations, not very clear. 2. # 7 absolute zero – muddled explanations. Should have shown the graphs that explain how we get the number for absolute zero 3. # 10 space time – poor examples, better explanations & diagrams found in any basic physics text book. 4. # 11 Faster than light. Again poor examples – better on any text book. 5. # 14 – Symmetry – examples of right & left hand gloves is confused. Our lungs are NOT symmetrical. Electrons are not all equal, spin up/down makes them different, etc. 6. # 17 – quantum world – says that entanglement is not at the same time – NO – it is precisely at the same time. 7. #22 – geometry – could have a better explanation of Maxwell’s equations. So, several questionable statements, or some even wrong. Clearly as of 2018 out of date. This one is going back
Date published: 2018-08-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Deep dive into the frontier zones of Physics The presenter uses the concept of impossibility to guide us through a large part of physics. He illustrates how physics is interconnected across all of its subfields, how the same concepts turn up over and over again, and how they help understand such seemingly different fields as Themodynamics and General Relativity. All this heady content is presented in an engaging and entertaining way, and I finished the course quickly, staying up after bedtime to finish "just one more" lesson.
Date published: 2018-07-06
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Impossible: Physics Beyond the Edge
Course Trailer
From Principles to Paradoxes and Back Again
1: From Principles to Paradoxes and Back Again

Prepare to explore the thrilling frontier that separates the possible from the impossible by first looking at what scientists mean by these two terms, and how the boundaries can shift. Professor Schumacher notes that by pondering the impossible, scientists gain amazing insights into the nature of physical laws....

31 min
Almost Impossible
2: Almost Impossible

Many technological and scientific breakthroughs were thought to be impossible before they were achieved. Examine several famous cases in which foremost experts were proved wrong-about heavier-than-air flight, space travel, the chemical composition of stars, and the existence of life forms at ultrahigh temperatures....

30 min
Perpetual Motion
3: Perpetual Motion

Probe one of the most enduring of all impossible quests: the search for a perpetual motion machine. Learn how the futility of such a pursuit was explained four centuries ago by the Flemish mathematician Simon Stevin, whose work eventually led to the law of conservation of energy....

31 min
On Sunshine and Invisible Particles
4: On Sunshine and Invisible Particles

Investigate two challenges to the law of conservation of energy, also known as the first law of thermodynamics. In the 19th century, the source of the sun's energy seemed inexplicable, until the discovery of radioactivity. Then, in the 20th century, a type of radioactive decay appeared to violate energy conservation, until the discovery of an invisible elementary particle....

31 min
Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire
5: Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire

Learn how the 19th-century French engineer Nicolas Carnot showed that only a temperature difference can be used to generate work, and that some waste heat must always be lost-ideas that led to the second law of thermodynamics and the important concept of entropy....

30 min
Maxwell's Demon
6: Maxwell's Demon

Entropy always increases in a system in which work is being done. Investigate James Clerk Maxwell's famous "demon"-an imaginary being that, in principle, appears to violate the entropy law. See how the demon paradox was resolved by interpreting entropy as information....

30 min
Absolute Zero
7: Absolute Zero

Learn how absolute zero (0 K or -273.15 degrees Celsius) is unattainable due to the third law of thermodynamics. Nonetheless, remarkable things happen on the way toward this impossible goal. For example, electrical resistance and viscosity drop to zero in certain substances, and weird quantum mechanical effects occur....

31 min
Predicting the Future
8: Predicting the Future

Consider a new kind of impossible thing: predicting the future in the presence of chaos. Even the slightest imprecision in present knowledge makes the long-term future unknowable. This is the phenomenon of dynamical chaos, also known as the "butterfly effect"-from the ability of a single flapping butterfly to radically affect future weather....

29 min
Visiting the Past
9: Visiting the Past

Explore the paradoxes of time travel. These are so fundamental that most physicists regard time travel as a near-absolute impossibility, yet science-fiction writers-and a few imaginative physicists-have proposed ways to avoid these difficulties. Look into some of their intriguing ideas....

30 min
Thinking in Space-Time
10: Thinking in Space-Time

Is the passage of time merely "a stubborn illusion," as Einstein believed? Investigate the revolutionary concept of space-time that emerges from his theory of relativity, which involved a major redrawing of the boundary between the possible and the impossible in physics....

30 min
Faster than Light
11: Faster than Light

Nothing can travel faster than light. Is there a way around this prohibition? Learn that it all depends on what is meant by a "thing." By considering various thought experiments, discover that this ultimate speed limit applies fundamentally to information, which means it is impossible to send a message into the past....

29 min
Black Holes and Curved Space-Time
12: Black Holes and Curved Space-Time

Einstein's general theory of relativity interprets gravity as a distortion of space-time near a massive object. Find out that for a very massive, dense object, this can result in a "black hole"-a region where the distortion is so strong that escape is impossible....

32 min
A Spinning Universe, Wormholes, and Such
13: A Spinning Universe, Wormholes, and Such

Delve deeper into Einstein's theories to uncover some startling implications: The entire cosmos could be rotating on its axis, giving rise to several supposedly impossible phenomena, already dismissed. Weigh the evidence for and against "exotic" matter, wormholes, and other hypothetical features of space-time....

31 min
What Is Symmetry?
14: What Is Symmetry?

Something is symmetric if it is impossible to tell whether a particular transformation has been applied. Explore this fascinating boundary between the possible and impossible, which includes some of the deepest principles of physics-among them, the surprising connection between symmetry and conservation laws discovered by mathematician Emmy Noether....

31 min
Mirror Worlds
15: Mirror Worlds

Inspect the universe through three special mirrors. One is an ordinary mirror that reflects left and right. Another mirror exchanges matter and antimatter. The third switches the future and the past. Is it possible to tell these mirror-worlds from our own? What does that imply about the laws of nature?...

31 min
Invasion of the Giant Insects
16: Invasion of the Giant Insects

Test a favorite plot device of science-fiction movies by examining whether supersize gorillas, insects as big as trucks, and other ordinary creatures enlarged to gigantic size can really exist. Is there a physical reason such monsters are in fact impossible?...

30 min
The Curious Quantum World
17: The Curious Quantum World

With the discovery of quantum mechanics in the early 20th century, the accepted boundary between the possible and the impossible was changed in radical ways. Begin a series of lectures on the quantum realm with a look at three of its key features....

29 min
Impossible Exactness
18: Impossible Exactness

In Newtonian physics, the position and velocity of a particle can both be specified to any level of precision. Not so in quantum mechanics, where these are limited by Heisenberg's famous uncertainty principle. Investigate the consequences of this fundamental restriction on what it's possible to know....

30 min
Quantum Tunneling
19: Quantum Tunneling

Discover how phenomena deemed impossible in classical physics are a regular feature of the quantum world-notably quantum tunneling, which is the ability of a subatomic particle to surmount a seemingly impassable energy barrier. One result of this effect: Black holes emit a slow trickle of energy known as Hawking radiation....

29 min
Whatever Is Not Forbidden Is Compulsory
20: Whatever Is Not Forbidden Is Compulsory

Explore a startling rule in quantum mechanics: Anything that can possibly happen, will happen. This means that whatever does not happen, whatever is truly impossible among the elementary particles, provides a clue to the fundamental laws of nature....

32 min
Entanglement and Quantum Cloning
21: Entanglement and Quantum Cloning

Delve into the weirdest of all quantum phenomena: entanglement, which causes a pair of quantum particles to behave as if they are telepathically connected. By cloning quantum particles, this effect could, in theory, allow faster-than-light signals, but there are fundamental reasons this is impossible....

29 min
Geometry and Conservation
22: Geometry and Conservation

Where do conservation laws come from? How does nature "enforce" them? Investigate these questions by performing a remarkable thought experiment: See how Maxwell's laws of electromagnetism and the geometry of space together imply the conservation of electric charge, even in a theoretical "electromagnetic-free" zone....

32 min
Symmetry, Information, and Probability
23: Symmetry, Information, and Probability

Survey the landscape of the impossible by focusing on three recurring themes in the course: One, symmetries are among the deepest principles in physics; two, the idea of information is pervasive; three, many phenomena that appear to be impossible are only statistical impossibilities....

29 min
The Future of the Impossible
24: The Future of the Impossible

Professor Schumacher concludes the course with his million-dollar list-those things he would be willing to bet a million dollars will remain impossible even in the face of future discoveries. But first he challenges you to draw on your newly acquired knowledge of physics to propose your own list....

31 min
Benjamin Schumacher

Gravity is about both phenomena near at hand at the human scale, everyday and intuitive, and phenomena far off at an astronomical scale.


The University of Texas at Austin


Kenyon College

About Benjamin Schumacher

Dr. Benjamin Schumacher is Professor of Physics at Kenyon College, where he has taught for 20 years. He received his Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from The University of Texas at Austin in 1990. Professor Schumacher is the author of numerous scientific papers and two books, including Physics in Spacetime: An Introduction to Special Relativity. As one of the founders of quantum information theory, he introduced the term qubit, invented quantum data compression (also known as Schumacher compression), and established several fundamental results about the information capacity of quantum systems. For his contributions, he won the 2002 Quantum Communication Award, the premier international prize in the field, and was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society. Besides working on quantum information theory, he has done physics research on black holes, thermodynamics, and statistical mechanics. Professor Schumacher has spent sabbaticals working at Los Alamos National Laboratory and as a Moore Distinguished Scholar at the Institute for Quantum Information at California Institute of Technology. He has also done research at the Isaac Newton Institute of Cambridge University, the Santa Fe Institute, the Perimeter Institute, the University of New Mexico, the University of Montreal, the University of Innsbruck, and the University of Queensland.

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