Physics and Our Universe

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Astounding scope Working my way through this set and am amazed at the scope of the course. I was liberal arts and had real problems keeping up with the math - and the language - involved in the sciences. The lecturer here takes this course step by step through the math - and the language - and makes it intelligible for a nervous nelly like me. High praise.
Date published: 2020-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent - very well done I have a physics background from long ago and my son took AP Physics I in high school a short while ago. We have both been enjoying this course very much. We watch it during meals. Due to how well it is done it is more than a review - you come away understanding more. The teaching is excellent, the speed just right, the content very clear, the demonstrations are superb: fun, interesting, well thought out and carried out. Wolfson is fun to watch and listen to. The use of the space, technology and demonstrations is better than most other courses I have watched - if not all. I would highly recommend this to anyone with some background.
Date published: 2020-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Glad I finally bought it I've completed over half the lectures, not in order (it's a very long course). I took physics decades ago, but I wanted to see what Wolfson had to teach me about electromagnetism, since I find that subject one of the more difficult ones for me. Even if you don't pay much attention to the math, you can still get a good understanding of the concepts. It's a good idea, however, to make some effort at following and working through the equations. The math is almost entirely algebra, but Wolfson occasionally mentions calculus without going into any detail with it. Of course, you can pause or review any part that you find hard to understand. The visuals are pretty good, and Wolfson's frequent experiments are effective learning tools. Wolfson is a good explainer (by the way, I love his “ooomphs” when doing work on objects).
Date published: 2020-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Welcomed addition to class lectures The lectures are thorough with many visual aids to reinforce what is being taught in class. It is a great supplement for our classroom setting.
Date published: 2019-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive overview of a very broad subject As a STEM undergrad who didn't take a whole lot of physics, I wanted to deepen my understanding of this very broad subject along with the mathematics used to describe the concepts. It is more heavy in math than most other science courses (something I was looking for), and though it was hard at times to follow, I re-watched each course a couple of times and took the time to think it over until I understood it. I wanted a little more rigor and less "fluff", which this course delivered. I understand some people would complain about the math and the fact that the professor is a bit rapid-fire with it, though the course assumes that you at least know enough math to understand it. Regardless, physics isn't an easy concept to master the first time through, hence using other resources in conjunction with this course would be the best approach to learn it. The course is pretty comprehensive and touches on all the main branches of physics within the 30 hours. Though this course wouldn't quite substitute an undergrad physics course, it does provide for a more general, intuitive understanding as well as appreciation of a wide range of concepts, many of which relevant to everyday life and current events. The many insightful demonstrations and analogies the professor employs coupled with his enthusiasm achieves this pedagogic goal adequately.
Date published: 2019-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Physics and our universe Excellent, and very we’ll presented. Richard Wolfson is an excellent instructor.
Date published: 2019-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very well done Clear explanations, easy to understand, yet gave me new insight and cleared misunderstood subjects
Date published: 2019-02-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very illuminating The material is well chosen and the use of examples or experiments makes for a better grasp of the course. The professor is indeed capable but his stile is somewhat dry.
Date published: 2018-10-24
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Physics and Our Universe
Course Trailer
The Fundamental Science
1: The Fundamental Science

Take a quick trip from the subatomic to the galactic realm as an introduction to physics, the science that explains physical reality at all scales. Professor Wolfson shows how physics is the fundamental science that underlies all the natural sciences. He also describes phenomena that are still beyond its explanatory power.

31 min
Languages of Physics
2: Languages of Physics

Understanding physics is as much about language as it is about mathematics. Begin by looking at how ordinary terms, such as theory and uncertainty, have a precise meaning in physics. Learn how fundamental units are defined. Then get a taste of the basic algebra that is used throughout the course.

31 min
Describing Motion
3: Describing Motion

Motion is everywhere, at all scales. Learn the difference between distance and displacement, and between speed and velocity. Add to these the concept of acceleration, which is the rate of change of velocity, and you are ready to delve deeper into the fundamentals of motion.

28 min
Falling Freely
4: Falling Freely

Use concepts from the previous lecture to analyze motion when an object is under constant acceleration due to gravity. In principle, the initial conditions in such cases allow the position of the object to be determined for any time in the future, which is the idea behind Isaac Newton's "clockwork universe."

30 min
It's a 3-D World!
5: It's a 3-D World!

Add the concept of vector to your physics toolbox. Vectors allow you to specify the magnitude and direction of a quantity such as velocity. The vector's direction can be along any axis, allowing analysis of motion in three dimensions. Then use vectors to solve several problems in projectile motion.

29 min
Going in Circles
6: Going in Circles

Circular motion is accelerated motion, even if the speed is constant, because the direction, and hence the velocity, is changing. Analyze cases of uniform and non-uniform circular motion. Then close with a problem challenging you to pull out of a dive in a jet plane without blacking out or crashing.

30 min
Causes of Motion
7: Causes of Motion

For most people, the hardest part of learning physics is to stop thinking like Aristotle, who believed that force causes motion. It doesn't. Force causes change in motion. Learn how Galileo's realization of this principle, and Newton's later formulation of his three laws of motion, launched classical physics.

30 min
Using Newton's Laws-1-D motion
8: Using Newton's Laws-1-D motion

Investigate Newton's second law, which relates force, mass, and acceleration. Focus on gravity, which results in a force, called weight, that's proportional to an object's mass. Then take a ride in an elevator to see how your measured weight changes due to acceleration during ascent and descent.

32 min
Action and Reaction
9: Action and Reaction

According to Newton's third law, "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." Professor Wolfson has a clearer way of expressing this much-misunderstood phrase. Also, see several demonstrations of action and reaction, and learn about frictional forces through examples such as antilock brakes.

30 min
Newton's Laws in 2 and 3 Dimensions
10: Newton's Laws in 2 and 3 Dimensions

Consider Newton's laws in cases of two and three dimensions. For example, how fast does a rollercoaster have to travel at the top of a loop to keep passengers from falling out? Is there a force pushing passengers up as the coaster reaches the top of its arc? The answer may surprise you.

30 min
Work and Energy
11: Work and Energy

See how the precise definition of work leads to the concept of energy. Then explore how some forces "give back" the work done against them. These conservative forces lead to the concept of stored potential energy, which can be converted to kinetic energy. From here, develop the important idea of conservation of energy.

31 min
Using Energy Conservation
12: Using Energy Conservation

A dramatic demonstration with a bowling ball pendulum shows how conservation of energy is a principle you can depend on. Next, solve problems in complicated motion using conservation of energy as a shortcut. Close by drawing the distinction between energy and power, which are often confused.

30 min
13: Gravity

Newton realized that the same force that makes an apple fall to the ground also keeps the moon in its orbit around Earth. Explore this force, called gravity, by focusing on circular orbits. End by analyzing why an orbiting spacecraft has to decrease its kinetic energy in order to speed up.

30 min
Systems of Particles
14: Systems of Particles

How do you analyze a complex system in motion? One special point in the system, called the center of mass, reduces the problem to its simplest form. Also learn how a system's momentum is unchanged unless external forces act on it. Then apply the conservation of momentum principle to analyze inelastic and elastic collisions.

30 min
Rotational Motion
15: Rotational Motion

Turn your attention to rotational motion. Rotational analogs of acceleration, force, and mass obey a law related to Newton's second law. This leads to the concept of angular momentum and the all-important -conservation of angular momentum, which explains some surprising and seemingly counterintuitive phenomena involving rotating objects.

33 min
Keeping Still
16: Keeping Still

What's the safest angle to lean a ladder against a wall to keep the ladder from slipping and falling? This is a problem in static equilibrium, which is the state in which no net force or torque (rotational force) is acting. Explore this condition and develop tools for determining whether equilibrium is stable or unstable.

30 min
Back and Forth-Oscillatory Motion
17: Back and Forth-Oscillatory Motion

Start a new section in which you apply Newtonian mechanics to more complex motions. In this lecture, study oscillations, a universal phenomenon in systems displaced from equilibrium. A special case is simple harmonic motion, exhibited by springs, pendulums, and even molecules.

32 min
Making Waves
18: Making Waves

Investigate waves, which transport energy but not matter. When two waves coexist at the same point, they interfere, resulting in useful and surprising applications. Also examine the Doppler effect, and see what happens when an object moves through a medium faster than the wave speed in that medium.

28 min
Fluid Statics-The Tip of the Iceberg
19: Fluid Statics-The Tip of the Iceberg

Fluid is matter in a liquid or gaseous state. In this lecture, study the characteristics of fluids at rest. Learn why water pressure increases with depth, and air pressure decreases with height. Greater pressure with depth causes buoyancy, which applies to balloons as well as boats and icebergs.

30 min
Fluid Dynamics
20: Fluid Dynamics

Explore fluids in motion. Energy conservation requires low pressure where fluid velocity is high, and vice versa. This relation between pressure and velocity results in many practical and sometimes counterintuitive phenomena, collectively called the Bernoulli effect-explaining why baseballs curve and how airplane speedometers work.

31 min
Heat and Temperature
21: Heat and Temperature

Beginning a new section, learn that heat is a flow of energy driven by a temperature difference. Temperature can be measured with various techniques but is most usefully quantified on the Kelvin scale. Investigate heat capacity and specific heat, and solve problems in heating a house and cooling a nuclear reactor.

29 min
Heat Transfer
22: Heat Transfer

Analyze heat flow, which involves three important heat-transfer mechanisms: conduction, which results from direct molecular contact; convection, involving the bulk motion of a fluid; and radiation, which transfers energy by electromagnetic waves. Study examples of heat flow in buildings and in the sun's interior.

31 min
Matter and Heat
23: Matter and Heat

Heat flow into a substance usually raises its temperature. But it can have other effects, including thermal expansion and changes between solid, liquid, and gaseous forms-collectively called phase changes. Investigate these phenomena, starting with an experiment in which Professor Wolfson pours liquid nitrogen onto a balloon filled with air.

30 min
The Ideal Gas
24: The Ideal Gas

Delve into the deep link between thermodynamics, which looks at heat on the macroscopic scale, and statistical mechanics, which views it on the molecular level. Your starting point is the ideal gas law, which approximates the behavior of many gases, showing how temperature, pressure, and volume are connected by a simple formula.

31 min
Heat and Work
25: Heat and Work

The first law of thermodynamics relates the internal energy of a system to the exchange of heat and mechanical work. Focus on isothermal (constant temperature) and adiabatic (no heat flow) processes, and see how they apply to diesel engines and the atmosphere.

31 min
Entropy-The Second Law of Thermodynamics
26: Entropy-The Second Law of Thermodynamics

Turn to an idea that has been compared to a work of Shakespeare: the second law of thermodynamics. According to the second law, entropy, a measure of disorder, always increases in a closed system. Order can only increase at the cost of even greater entropy elsewhere in the system.

31 min
Consequences of the Second Law
27: Consequences of the Second Law

The second law puts limits on the efficiency of heat engines and shows that humankind's energy use could be better planned. Learn why it makes sense to exploit low-entropy, high-quality energy for uses such as transportation, motors, and electronics, while using high-entropy random thermal energy for heating.

31 min
A Charged World
28: A Charged World

Embark on a new section of the course, devoted to electromagnetism. Begin by investigating electric charge, which is a fundamental property of matter. Coulomb's law states that the electric force depends on the product of the charges and inversely on the square of the distance between them.

32 min
The Electric Field
29: The Electric Field

On of the most important ideas in physics is the field, which maps the presence and magnitude of a force at different points in space. Explore the concept of the electric field, and learn how Gauss's law describes the field lines emerging from an enclosed charge.

31 min
Electric Potential
30: Electric Potential

Jolt your understanding of electric potential difference, or voltage. A volt is one joule of work or energy per coulomb of charge. Survey the characteristics of voltage-from batteries, to Van de Graaff generators, to thunderstorms, which discharge lightning across a potential difference of millions of volts.

31 min
Electric Energy
31: Electric Energy

Study stored electric potential energy in fuels such as gasoline, where the molecular bonds represent an enormous amount of energy ready to be released. Also look at a ubiquitous electronic component called the capacitor, which stores an electric charge, and discover that all electric fields represent stored energy.

29 min
Electric Current
32: Electric Current

Learn the definition of the unit of electric current, called the ampere, and how Ohm's law relates the current in common conductors to the voltage across the conductor and the conductor's resistance. Apply Ohm's law to a hard-starting car, and survey tips for handling electricity safely.

30 min
Electric Circuits
33: Electric Circuits

All electric circuits need an energy source, such as a battery. Learn what happens inside a battery, and analyze simple circuits in series and in parallel, involving one or more resistors. When capacitors are incorporated into circuits, they store electric energy and introduce time dependence into the circuit's behavior.

31 min
34: Magnetism

In this introduction to magnetism, discover that magnetic phenomena are really about electricity, since magnetism involves moving electric charge. Learn the right-hand rule for the direction of magnetic force. Also investigate how a current-carrying wire in a magnetic field is the principle behind electric motors.

29 min
The Origin of Magnetism
35: The Origin of Magnetism

No matter how many times you break a magnet apart, each piece has a north and south pole. Why? Search for the origin of magnetism and learn how magnetic field lines differ from those of an electric field, and why Earth has a magnetic field.

30 min
Electromagnetic Induction
36: Electromagnetic Induction

Probe one of the most fascinating phenomena in all of physics, electromagnetic induction, which shows the direct relationship between electric and magnetic fields. In a demonstration with moving magnets, see how the relative motion of a magnet and an electric conductor induces current in the conductor.

31 min
Applications of Electromagnetic Induction
37: Applications of Electromagnetic Induction

Survey some of the technologies that exploit electromagnetic induction: the electric generators that supply nearly all the world's electrical energy, transformers that step voltage up or down for different uses, airport metal detectors, microphones, electric guitars, and induction stovetops, among many other applications.

29 min
Magnetic Energy
38: Magnetic Energy

Study the phenomenon of self-inductance in a solenoid coil, finding that the magnetic field within the coil is a repository of magnetic energy, analogous to the electric energy stored in a capacitor. Close by comparing the complementary aspects of electricity and magnetism.

30 min
39: AC/DC

Direct current (DC) is electric current that flows in one direction; alternating current (AC) flows back and forth. Learn how capacitors and inductors respond to AC by alternately storing and releasing energy. Combining a capacitor and inductor in a circuit provides the electrical analog of simple harmonic motion introduced in Lecture 17.

31 min
Electromagnetic Waves
40: Electromagnetic Waves

Explore the remarkable insight of physicist James Clerk Maxwell in the 1860s that changing electric fields give rise to magnetic fields in the same way that changing magnetic fields produce electric fields. Together, these changing fields result in electromagnetic waves, one component of which is visible light.

30 min
Reflection and Refraction
41: Reflection and Refraction

Starting a new section of the course, discover that light often behaves as rays, which change direction at boundaries between materials. Investigate reflection and refraction, answering such questions as, why doesn't a dust mote block data on a CD? How do mirrors work? And why do diamonds sparkle?

31 min
42: Imaging

See how curving a mirror or a piece of glass bends parallel light rays to a focal point, allowing formation of images. Learn how images can be enlarged or reduced, and the difference between virtual and real images. Use your knowledge of optics to solve problems in vision correction.

30 min
Wave Optics
43: Wave Optics

Returning to themes from Lecture 18 on waves, discover that when light interacts with objects comparable in size to its wavelength, then its wave nature becomes obvious. Examine interference and diffraction, and see how these effects open the door to certain investigations, while hindering others.

33 min
Cracks in the Classical Picture
44: Cracks in the Classical Picture

Embark on the final section of the course, which covers the revolutionary theories that superseded classical physics. Why did classical physics need to be replaced? Discover that by the late 19th century, inexplicable cracks were beginning to appear in its explanatory power.

30 min
Earth, Ether, Light
45: Earth, Ether, Light

Review the famous Michelson-Morley experiment, which was designed to detect the motion of Earth relative to a conjectured "ether wind" that supposedly pervaded all of space. The failure to detect any such motion revealed a deep-seated contradiction at the heart of physics.

31 min
Special Relativity
46: Special Relativity

Discover the startling consequences of Einstein's principle of relativity-that the laws of physics are the same for all observers in uniform motion. One result is that the speed of light is the same for all observers, no matter what their relative motion-an idea that overturns the concept of simultaneity.

30 min
Time and Space
47: Time and Space

Einstein's special theory of relativity upends traditional notions of space and time. Solve the simple formulas that show the reality of time dilation and length contraction. Conclude by examining the twins paradox, discovering why one twin who travels to a star and then returns ages more slowly than the twin back on Earth.

31 min
Space-Time and Mass-Energy
48: Space-Time and Mass-Energy

In relativity theory, contrary to popular views, reality is what's not relative-that is, what doesn't depend on one's frame of reference. See how space and time constitute one such pair, merging into a four-dimensional space-time. Mass and energy similarly join, related by Einstein's famous E = mc2.

31 min
General Relativity
49: General Relativity

Special relativity is limited to reference frames in uniform motion. Following Einstein, make the leap to a more general theory that encompasses accelerated frames of reference and necessarily includes gravity. According to Einstein's general theory of relativity, gravity is not a force but the geometrical structure of spacetime.

30 min
Introducing the Quantum
50: Introducing the Quantum

Begin your study of the ideas that revolutionized physics at the atomic scale: quantum theory. The word "quantum" comes from Max Planck's proposal in 1900 that the atomic vibrations that produce light must be quantized-that is, they occur only with certain discrete energies.

30 min
Atomic Quandaries
51: Atomic Quandaries

Apply what you've learned so far to work out the details of Niels Bohr's model of the atom, which patches one of the cracks in classical physics from Lecture 44. Although it explains the energies of photons emitted by simple atoms, Bohr's model has serious limitations.

31 min
Wave or Particle?
52: Wave or Particle?

In the 1920s physicists established that light and matter display both wave- and particle-like behavior. Probe the nature of this apparent contradiction and the meaning of Werner Heisenberg's famous uncertainty principle, which introduces a fundamental indeterminacy into physics.

31 min
Quantum Mechanics
53: Quantum Mechanics

In 1926 Erwin Schrödinger developed an equation that underlies much of our modern quantum-mechanical description of physical reality. Solve a simple problem with the Schrödinger equation. Then learn how the merger of quantum mechanics and special relativity led to the discovery of antimatter.

32 min
54: Atoms

Drawing on what you now know about quantum mechanics, analyze how atoms work, discovering that the electron is not a point particle but behaves like a probability cloud. Investigate the exclusion principle, and learn how quantum mechanics explains the periodic table of elements and the principle behind lasers.

31 min
Molecules and Solids
55: Molecules and Solids

See how atoms join to make molecules and solids, and how this leads to the quantum effects that underlie semiconductor electronics. Also probe the behavior of matter in ultradense white dwarfs and neutron stars, and learn how a quantum-mechanical pairing of electrons at low temperatures produces superconductivity.

31 min
The Atomic Nucleus
56: The Atomic Nucleus

In the first of two lectures on nuclear physics, study the atomic nucleus, which consists of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons, held together by the strong nuclear force. Many combinations of protons and neutrons are unstable; such nuclei are radioactive and decay with characteristic half lives.

31 min
Energy from the Nucleus
57: Energy from the Nucleus

Investigate nuclear fission, in which a heavy, unstable nucleus breaks apart; and nuclear fusion, where light nuclei are joined. In both, the released energy is millions of times greater than the energy from chemical reactions and comes from the conversion of nuclear binding energy to kinetic energy.

31 min
The Particle Zoo
58: The Particle Zoo

By 1960 a myriad of seeming elementary particles had been discovered. Survey the standard model that restored order to this subatomic chaos, describing a universe whose fundamental particles include six quarks; the electron and two heavier cousins; elusive neutrinos; and force-carrying particles such as the photon.

30 min
An Evolving Universe
59: An Evolving Universe

Trace the discoveries that led astronomers to conclude that the universe began some 14 billion years ago in a big bang. Detailed measurements of the cosmic microwave background and other observations point to an initial period of tremendous inflation, followed by slow expansion and an as-yet inexplicable accelerating phase.

31 min
Humble Physics-What We Don't Know
60: Humble Physics-What We Don't Know

Having covered the remarkable discoveries in physics, turn to the great gap in our current knowledge, namely the nature of the dark matter and dark energy that constitute more than 95% of the universe. Close with a look at other mysteries that physicists are now working to solve.

32 min
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.


Dartmouth College


Middlebury College

About Richard Wolfson

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.

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