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Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos

Become familiar with the fundamental particles that make up all matter, from the tiniest microbe to the sun and stars.

Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 151.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear, Comprehensive & Enjoyable This course is that it did just what’s promised - explained particle physics to a non physicist retired medical doctor. Secondly the essence of the physics got through well enough that I can now contextually comprehend newer knowledge that made little sense before. Third the evident professional competence of the lecturer, his patient approach to history and skill as an teacher worked to illuminate & resolve some of my incorrect assumptions about physics in general – and that’s a bonus and as welcome as it’s rare.
Date published: 2023-11-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Trees in Search of a Forest One minor criticism: Pollock was in constant motion. I found this a little distracting. But the cameraman must have been really peeved. What made this worse was that Pollock kept moving back and forth in front of a multi-colored background. Here is a quick summary of the course. Up and Down Quarks join to make Protons and Neutrons. The two Leptons, Electrons and Electron Neutrinos, join with Protons and Neutrons to make up most all of the matter here on Earth. Charm Quarks, Strange Quarks, Top Quarks, Bottom Quarks, Muons, Muon Neutrinos, Taus and Tau Neutrinos combine to make up some other matter occurring in stars and particle accelerators. Forces include ElectroWeak Force, Strong Force, and Gravity. Force carriers include Photons, Gluons, W-, W+, and Z bosons. Pollock stretched this information into a 12-hour course. Needless to say, Pollock could get bogged down in a lot of minutia. I'm afraid he was so detailed, that it was hard for me to see the forest for the trees. I'm sure his attention to detail is what makes him a great physicist, but it made it difficult for me to understand the big picture. For those of us with poor math skills, there is no math in the course. However, Pollock constantly mentions that math is the basis and the proof of the theories he is explaining. Seems a bit contradictory, kind of like teaching chemistry without the Periodic Table. Lastly, Pollock stressed that matter is constantly conserved, ie things like energy, charge, handedness, color, and momentum are always conserved. Yet, he then tells us that a particle and its anti-particle can appear out of nowhere for short periods of time, without explaining why this doesn’t break conservation laws. (I later learned that this has something to do with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle---that great Physics monkey wrench, thrown in to screw everything up. Kind of like mathematics square root of -1.)
Date published: 2023-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best Great Course I've seen!!!! This is the best of the many Great Courses I've purchased. And it's clearly the best course teaching particle physics for non-physicists, and certainly the most engrossing! Dr Pollock's presentation style is lively, totally engrossing, and great at communicating complex concepts in an easy to understand manner. I'd recommend this whether you are especially interested in the particle zoo or totally afraid of physics. I've just started his classical physics course and I'd recommend that too.
Date published: 2023-05-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Never buy the DVD This is the first time I've purchased a course as a DVD set rather than a download. I will not buy a DVD set again. The DVDs do not have a Table of Contents that let's you open a lecture in the "middle" of the lecture list. You're forced to work through successive lectures to get to one you haven't seen. Very frustrating.
Date published: 2022-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great "Tour" I was concerned that a static lecture series on a topic such as particle physics would be a snooze-fest, however Dr. Pollack's presentation and Guidebook kept it interesting and understandable. Perfect level for the "Non-Physicist"!
Date published: 2022-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I bought this about 2 months ago. I have been learning Learning as much as I can about quantum physics. I recommend this course to anyone who is early in learning about physics as well as quantum physics. Well done and worth reading
Date published: 2022-07-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Higgs? Course is 9 years before Higgs!!! Professor Pollock does an outstanding job of presenting and explaining. So I was very excited to get the final piece of the puzzle in Lesson 19: The Higgs Particle. That is when I discovered that this course was published in 2003. The Higgs Boson was detected in 2012. This is 2022. There should at least be an updated segment added to explain wha the discovery of the Higgs means. There should be an upfront statement on the Great Course Summary of when this course was made and that despite Lesson 19's title, the Higgs is not in there. Soooo disappointing.
Date published: 2022-04-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Impossible to understand I haven't even finished this course (currently 7 lectures into it) and I thoroughly dislike it. I purchased it based on recommendations in the reviews of the course about the Higgs boson. That course I did enjoy, but certainly didn't fully understand. I have zero knowledge of physics, so hoped this course would help. Well, it doesn't. The lecturer's enthusiasm is great to see, but his explanations don't explain anything. He often refers to things he doesn't return to after another digression. I am more confused now than I was before this course.
Date published: 2022-02-20
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In Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos, Professor Steven Pollock translates the language of the remarkable science that, in only 100 years, has unlocked the secrets of the basic forces of nature. You will become familiar with the fundamental particles that make up all matter, from the tiniest microbe to the sun and stars. You will also learn the "rules of the game"—the forces the particles feel and the ways they interact—that underlie the workings of the universe.


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.


University of Colorado, Boulder

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.

By This Professor

Nature of Physics

01: Nature of Physics

What is the world made of, how do the constituents fit, and what are the fundamental rules they obey? We discuss the history of human understanding of atoms and subatoms, and articulate some primary ideas in particle physics, focusing on what we know well.

33 min
Standard Model of Particle Physics

02: Standard Model of Particle Physics

Where do we stand in our understanding of the smallest building blocks of the world? The Standard Model of particle physics is one of the greatest quantitative success stories in science. What are the players, what are the forces, and what are some of the concepts and buzzwords?

30 min
Pre-History of Particle Physics

03: Pre-History of Particle Physics

We summarize the scientific evolution of atomism: prescientific ideas, the classical worldview of Isaac Newton, and finally the modern ideas of fundamental constituents. How could a famous physicist say physics was "done" in 1899?

30 min
Birth of Modern Physics

04: Birth of Modern Physics

We explore the transition from 19th-century classical physics to 20th-century modern physics. This is the story of Planck, Rutherford, Einstein, and the early quantum physicists. We gain our primitive first understandings of the realistic structure of atoms.

30 min
Quantum Mechanics Gets Serious

05: Quantum Mechanics Gets Serious

A qualitative introduction to the work of Schrödinger, Heisenberg, and Dirac in describing electrons, this lecture looks at how the first fundamental particle was discovered. We introduce such concepts as spin and quantum electrodynamics (QED), and conclude with the experimental discovery of antimatter and the neutron.

30 min
New Particles & New Technologies

06: New Particles & New Technologies

This lecture conducts a survey of particle physics in the first half of the 20th century: cosmic rays, the discovery of the muon (Who ordered that?), Yukawa's theory of nuclear force, and the discovery of the pion. We conclude by discussing the electron volt (ev) as a tool to make sense of the particle discoveries to come.

31 min
Weak Interactions & the Neutrino

07: Weak Interactions & the Neutrino

What is a weak interaction, and how is it connected to radioactivity? What is an interaction, anyway, and how does it differ from a force? We discuss the carriers of weak forces, W and Z particles, and introduce neutrinos - ghostlike particles with no mass.

31 min
Accelerators & Particle Explosion

08: Accelerators & Particle Explosion

Particle accelerators, born after World War II, were in some respects the origin of big science in the United States. We discuss how these machines worked and the steady stream of new particles discovered through their use.

31 min

09: Particle "Zoo"

Some new particles exhibited a curious mix of strong and weak properties. The proper description of these "strange particles" was crucial in understanding the particle "zoo." This lecture introduces lots of new lingo - mesons and baryons, hadrons and leptons, bosons and fermions.

29 min
Fields & Forces

10: Fields & Forces

This lecture covers the concept of a field and the early problems involved in constructing the modern theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED). We examine the 1947 Shelter Island conference, the problem of infinities, the concept of renormalization, and Feynman diagrams.

30 min

11: "Three Quarks for Muster Mark"

Hadrons (strongly interacting particles) are fundamental but not elementary. Could they be made of something else? This is the breakthrough idea of quarks. This lecture explores early quark conditions.

30 min
From Quarks to QCD

12: From Quarks to QCD

If quarks are the fundamental particles, how do they interact? The answer: They carry a new charge, a strong charge described by color. We introduce these concepts as part of the fledgling theory of quantum chromodynamics (QCD) from the 1970s.

32 min
Symmetry & Conservation Laws

13: Symmetry & Conservation Laws

What does symmetry mean to a physicist? Pretty much what it means to you: an aesthetic property of a system, a pattern that appears the same when viewed from different perspectives.

31 min
Broken Symmetry, Shattered Mirrors

14: Broken Symmetry, Shattered Mirrors

Symmetry is sometimes slightly broken or badly broken. Either way, there is something useful to be learned about the world. This lecture explores (a seemingly obvious) mirror symmetry, also called parity, and the stunning surprise that it is not perfect (parity violation).

31 min
November Revolution of 1974

15: November Revolution of 1974

In November of 1974, two simultaneous experimental discoveries rocked the world of particle physics. A new particle, a new quark, had been found. The charmed quark changed the scientific paradigm for physicists overnight.

31 min
A New Generation

16: A New Generation

The last great surprises: a new generation of particles. The tau lepton is discovered, and symmetry arguments tell scientists that the tau neutrino, and bottom and top quarks, have to be there ... and they are!

31 min
Weak Forces & the Standard Model

17: Weak Forces & the Standard Model

Progress in the 1960s and '70s was not limited to strong forces and quarks. This is the story of the theory of Weinberg, Salam, and Glashow—the electroweak theory—that unified the fundamental weak, electric, and magnetic forces. We can now summarize the Standard Model.

31 min
Greatest Success Story in Physics

18: Greatest Success Story in Physics

The Standard Model of particle physics is an impressive accomplishment. Its unparalleled success includes qualitative and quantitative measurements, with years of increasingly precise tests.

30 min
The Higgs Particle

19: The Higgs Particle

The Higgs particle is the least understood piece of our story so far, and the one central part not yet directly verified. What is this particle, and what role does it play in the Standard Model?

30 min
Solar Neutrino Puzzle

20: Solar Neutrino Puzzle

We have always assumed that neutrinos are massless, but what if they did have mass? Why are there far fewer neutrinos coming from the sun than there should be? What does it mean to talk about neutrinos changing flavor?

31 min
Back to the Future (1) - Experiments to Come

21: Back to the Future (1) - Experiments to Come

The SSC may be dead, but experimental particle physics is alive and vibrant! What are some of the burning issues? Among those we will discuss are the search for violations of matter-antimatter symmetry, and neutrino beams that will travel through the Earth from source to target.

30 min
Back to the Future (2) - Puzzles & Progress

22: Back to the Future (2) - Puzzles & Progress

The Standard Model is a great success. So why are many physicists looking for a more fundamental theory of nature? We'll begin with the missing link of gravity; issues of simplicity, unification, and grand unification; then two developments that to many physicists seem to be the best candidates for new physics: supersymmetry and string theory.

31 min
Really Big Stuff - The Origin of the Universe

23: Really Big Stuff - The Origin of the Universe

What does cosmology, the study of the universe as a whole, have to do with particle physics? Matter at the very largest scales requires understanding of matter at the very tiniest. We'll discuss how particle physics fits in with the Big Bang, the more recent theory of inflation, and the newly discovered dark matter and dark energy.

32 min
Looking Back & Looking Forward

24: Looking Back & Looking Forward

What have we learned after more than 100 years of intense study of fundamental particles? What puzzles remain? What you might take out of this course is a sense of physical order and understanding of the constituents of the larger world.

29 min