The Science of Energy: Resources and Power Explained

Rated 4 out of 5 by from solid intro which informed me well huge subject; one of those things everyone thinks they are an expert on but really know very little; i found this very good and informative, good presentation, enjoyed the professor and the subject. recommended.
Date published: 2020-10-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent material and speaker Dr. Wysession is an excellent speaker, and the course is well organized and interesting. My only complaint is that the recording engineer turned down the treble when recording his speach so it'[s quite bass. Difficult to hear of those of us with poor high tones hearing.
Date published: 2020-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great information! Presented in easy to understand lectures. Very informative and interesting.
Date published: 2020-06-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Science of energy: Resources and Power explained Just purchased and am going through the course. I purchased based on Professor Wyession’s statement that the course was balance and unbiased. The majority of the course is, however I believe the topic on Carbon dioxide and climate change is extremely biased. If opposing science were presented with what the professor states, then it would be unbiased. There are a great many scientists turning away from the science portrayed here. It is only one side and highly agenda driven. The majority of the course is great. Sorry this one section seemed so out of touch with the rest re 2015 data compared to 2020!
Date published: 2020-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent survey, would like to an update. I think this course hits a good level for the "interested layperson". Its breadth is commendable. The professor is personable, informal. I listened to it while exercise hiking.
Date published: 2020-03-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Superficial and misleading presentation The instructor of this course is neither academically nor professionally qualified to present this course. His lack of knowledge of the field is especially evident in the section on nuclear power, but is evident as well in other portions of the lectures. From the style of the presentation, it struck me that his intended audience was middle-schoolers, not adults. A few specifics. He repeatedly stated that the heat production by nuclear fission was gamma rays. Well over 90 percent of the energy release by fission is kinetic energy of the particles released during the fission and subsequent decay of the fission products. In actuality, the small percentage of energy release in the form of gamma rays is mostly absorbed by structural materials and the reactor's biological shielding. The contribution it makes to generating steam is virtually zero. He states that nuclear waste is 'dangerous for millions of years.' The accurate statement would be that nuclear waste is radioactive for millions of years; but after 300 years, the amount of radioactivity in the waste is no greater than that of the ore that was mined to create the nuclear fuel. In other words, within a matter of centuries, the danger presented by the nuclear waste is no greater than the danger posed by Mother Nature, and in fact is less so because the radioactive material has been relocated from random locations in the crust to a place where there is no ground water to leach to and thousands of feet beneath the surface of the earth. He portrays the industry's handling of radioactive wastes by illustrating a haphazard pile of rusting waste drums. The illustration shown is so far from the truth that is qualifies as propaganda. What the photo likely shows is a holding area for discarded waste containers that are in the process of decontamination and eventual disposal as low-level radioactive waste, over-packed in a new container prior to burial. He states that the capacity factor of nuclear power is 'only two-thirds.' In actuality, the capacity factor of nuclear power is greater than 90 percent....the highest of any of the power sources he covered. He states the thermal efficiency of the internal combustion engine is 20 percent. Wrong again...the thermal efficiency of the diesel cycle is about 40 percent. The 20 percent efficiency is for that of the overall vehicle, including mechanical inefficiency of the transmission and drive train and aerodynamic friction. As a basic criticism of the course, the instructor neglected to present the fundamental truth behind any comparative analysis of energy source. That is, the more diffuse the energy source, the greater the amount of resource use will be necessary for producing a given amount of useful power. In all three of the college courses I've taken that specifically concentrated on comparative energy production technologies, that point was the first one made by the instructor. To give him credit, he did brush on that throughout the course, but his main emphasis was on land use, which is only a very small part of the total resource picture. Throughout the course, the emphasis was on the operational phase of the various energy production technologies. When disadvantages of the fabrication and construction phases were mentioned, they tended to be glossed over, and (other than for nuclear) the disadvantages of the demolition and disposal phase were rarely mentioned. In my opinion, this course should be withdrawn from the Great Courses' library. It does more harm to the energy debate than it does good.
Date published: 2020-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative and interesting course on energy In his course, The Science of Energy, Dr. Wysession provides a remarkably comprehensive explanation of energy production and storage technologies, both traditional and emerging, that includes their science, cost, practical considerations, and context in the changing landscape of energy production. His lectures deliver an amazing amount of information with a style and pace that keeps them interesting while being clear and understandable. His lecture on Carbon Dioxide is an extremely illuminating explanation of climate change and the scientific issues related to it. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2019-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and Based on The Facts of That Time This set of lectures was recorded in or about 2016 and the facts and figures cited were from 2012 to 2014. These lectures are not preachy on what we have done to our environment over the past 200 years via the energy industry. These lectures go into the history and basis for what we are doing and why we are doing it. The professor does not use emotional superficial sound-bites as to what to do, but gives us facts based on the information known at the time of this recording on what can realistically be done with some insight as to why things may not be being done at the rate people what them done. A main take-away is that while renewable energy is a good thing, we have the problem of dealing with an outdated or poorly thought out power grid system and no real way to store all of the electric being produced to satisfy off-peak usage. Another main take-away is that we will need a combination of sources to satisfy our needs because if there is no wind, there is no energy. Likewise, the sun does not always shine when we want it to, i.e., at night or on cloudy days. These two points also lead back to the need for a solid storage system. Overall, this course was informative as to facts, history, concepts, with a little bit of philosophy thrown in to help someone think past the surface of the issue.
Date published: 2019-12-10
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The Science of Energy: Resources and Power Explained
Course Trailer
Energy and Human Civilization
1: Energy and Human Civilization

How much energy is required to power human civilization? What is it that makes our cities, factories, homes, and cars so energy inefficient? How can the average individual affect energy directions? Find out in this overview of how energy touches everything from engineering and economics to biology, chemistry, and geophysics....

33 min
Energy: Forms and Conversion for Use
2: Energy: Forms and Conversion for Use

Energy is a fundamental part of our universe-in a sense, the universe is energy. Here, Professor Wysession introduces you to the many fascinating forms energy takes, including potential, kinetic, mechanical, and thermal energy. He also explains how energy is measured to make you more fluent in "energy-speak" for the coming lectures....

35 min
Heat: The Transfer and Flow of Energy
3: Heat: The Transfer and Flow of Energy

One of the first forms of energy that humans learned to use is heat. You'll examine three ways heat flows (radiation, convection, conduction); make sense of the heat flow equation and the concept of entropy; and go inside the inner workings of a "heat engine" machine....

34 min
Electricity: Ultimate Energy Converter
4: Electricity: Ultimate Energy Converter

Discover what makes electricity such an attractive vehicle for energy. Learn how electricity can come from oil, coal, solar, and other forces, and how electricity travels through wires with the help of voltage. Also, examine recent advances that make it easier for us to choose where we source our electricity....

35 min
Chemical Energy, Biomass, and Photosynthesis
5: Chemical Energy, Biomass, and Photosynthesis

Turn now to chemical energy, the potential energy resulting from the position of atoms within molecules. After an overview of photosynthesis (perhaps the universe's most amazing form of energy conversion), learn how combustion transforms biofuels into light and heat, and how energy density affects the transportation of biofuels like petroleum....

38 min
Coal: Convenient, Energy-Dense Fuel
6: Coal: Convenient, Energy-Dense Fuel

Understand one of energy's most polarizing topics: coal. Where does coal come from, and how does it develop? What makes coal "clean" or "dirty"? Why do certain nations have the largest coal reserves? What are some advantages to coal energy? And how does strip mining impact the environment?...

34 min
Petroleum: Chemistry, Retrieval, and Use
7: Petroleum: Chemistry, Retrieval, and Use

In the first of two lectures on petroleum, examine the science behind this common fossil fuel: how it's formed, how it's found and processed, how it's transported, and how it's used. You'll also gain insights into related topics, including geologic structures such as anticlines and the growth of the petroleum industry....

35 min
New Petroleum Directions
8: New Petroleum Directions

Peer into the future with this look at some of the newest trends in oil and gas production. Professor Wysession explains the difference between conventional and unconventional oil, the geology of oil sands and oil shales, and the risks of fracking (which can cause earthquakes and other serious damage)....

34 min
Fossil Fuel Energy: Issues and Concerns
9: Fossil Fuel Energy: Issues and Concerns

Fossil fuels, while abundant and portable, come with a significant list of drawbacks. Focus now on the various financial, environmental, and health concerns surrounding our continued reliance on fossil fuels (such as coal fires and oil spills). Then, examine some recent technological and legislative efforts to combat these problems....

36 min
Understanding Carbon Dioxide
10: Understanding Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide is a pollutant so significant to human civilization that Professor Wysession devotes an entire lecture to it. If CO2 is only 0.04% of the atmosphere, how can it be so harmful? Is global warming a natural process? What actions can we take to reduce the dangers of CO2?...

35 min
The Science of Nuclear Power
11: The Science of Nuclear Power

Travel to the subatomic level for a fascinating exploration of how nuclear energy is generated. It's an eye-opening lecture that touches on everything from nuclear fission and radioactive decay to the inner workings of nuclear power plants and the attendant fears and concerns of core meltdowns....

33 min
The Nuclear Fission Fuel Cycle
12: The Nuclear Fission Fuel Cycle

Professor Wysession explains how uranium is used to make electricity through the process of nuclear fission, from acquiring uranium-bearing rocks to disposing of leftover nuclear waste. Afterwards, learn some of the upsides of nuclear energy (including its nearly unlimited power) and its downsides (such as its inability to become decentralized or portable)....

35 min
Sunlight: Inexhaustible Energy Source
13: Sunlight: Inexhaustible Energy Source

Sunlight is a literally inexhaustible source of energy. Discover why (and how) the sun gives off light, how much sunlight energy the earth's surface gets in an average day, how much land we'd need to supply all our energy needs through sunlight, and some of the geographical problems with solar power....

32 min
Solar Power and Electricity
14: Solar Power and Electricity

The biggest area of growth for solar energy: transforming sunlight into electricity with the aid of solar panels. Go inside the world of photovoltaic solar panels to find out how they convert sunlight into functional power. Also, take a closer look at other solar-related technologies, like solar troughs, solar towers, and Stirling engines....

32 min
Wind Power and Electricity
15: Wind Power and Electricity

Wind power is another growing source of renewable energy. First, discover how giant wind turbines provide us with energy. Then, get a brief history of how humans have tapped into wind's potential and the meteorology of how wind works. Finally, learn the best regions for wind power and the advantages and drawbacks of using wind turbines....

31 min
Hydroelectric Power: Electricity from Water
16: Hydroelectric Power: Electricity from Water

Hydroelectric power continues to be the planet's largest renewable source of electricity. In this lecture, Professor Wysession discusses the benefits of hydroelectric power (no CO2 production, free fuel) and drawbacks (environmental disruption); how hydroelectricity generation works; run-of-the-river and impoundment-style power plants; and the basics of the water cycle....

33 min
Biofuels: Biodiesel and Ethanol
17: Biofuels: Biodiesel and Ethanol

Liquid biofuels like biodiesel and corn-based ethanol are the most rapidly growing forms of biomass energy in the 21st century. Here, survey some of the many intriguing chemical reaction routes that transform solid plant biomass into liquids with high-energy densities. Then, ponder some of the economic and political implications of biofuels....

30 min
Geothermal Energy
18: Geothermal Energy

Go deep underground for a look at geothermal energy. Topics include the energy budget of our planet, two main ways of using geothermal energy, five different technologies used for hydrothermal power systems (including dry steam power plants), and the concept of shallow ground source heat pumps (GSHPs)....

33 min
Energy Storage Technologies
19: Energy Storage Technologies

The sun doesn't always shine, and the wind doesn't always blow. So how do we store renewable energy from these and other sources for later? Focus on several basic (as well as high-performance and high-volume) technologies for storing the surplus of energy we can get from sources such as wind and solar farms....

32 min
Energy Needs for Transportation
20: Energy Needs for Transportation

Transportation is an enormous part of our global total energy consumption. From planes to trains to automobiles, learn how scientists are working to make popular modes of transportation as fuel-efficient as possible. Also, explore the topic of electric cars and whether or not they're truly more efficient than gas-powered ones....

32 min
Energy Efficiency: Technologies and Trends
21: Energy Efficiency: Technologies and Trends

Where is energy commonly being wasted? How does one become a more efficient energy user? This lecture is filled with takeaways to help anyone (from home owner to car driver to CEO) become more energy efficient in a range of sectors and settings: industries, transportation, residences, and commercial buildings....

30 min
Energy Sources: Economics and Politics
22: Energy Sources: Economics and Politics

Professor Wysession outlines some of the major economic and political forces shaping the development of the world's energy resources. You'll learn how hidden costs can affect the economics of supply and demand, how governments can incentivize and dis-incentivize energy industries, and the complexities of international agreements (and trade wars)....

33 min
Probable and Possible Future Energy Sources
23: Probable and Possible Future Energy Sources

Look ahead to the possible (and probable) advancements in the areas of energy resources. You'll cover the growth of tidal and wave energy, the difficulty of nuclear fusion, the energy potential of earthquakes and supervolcanoes, and giant space arrays of solar panels designed to capture even more solar energy....

30 min
Energy Trends: Planning for the Near Future
24: Energy Trends: Planning for the Near Future

According to Professor Wysession, there's no easy solution to the world's energy future. Going through many of the sources explored in previous lectures, he estimates how much energy we'll need, what sources are (and will be) available to us, and how to think realistically-and optimistically-about our energy consumption....

42 min
Michael E. Wysession

The more you know and understand the natural world, the greater will be your love and appreciation for it.


Northwestern University


Washington University in St. Louis

About Michael E. Wysession

Dr. Michael E. Wysession is the Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. Professor Wysession earned his Sc.B. in Geophysics from Brown University and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University. An established leader in seismology and geophysical education, Professor Wysession is noted for his development of a new way to create three-dimensional images of Earth's interior from seismic waves. These images have provided scientists with insights into the makeup of Earth and its evolution throughout history. Professor Wysession is the coauthor of An Introduction to Seismology, Earthquakes, and Earth Structure; the lead author of Physical Science: Concepts in Action; and the primary writer for the texts Earth Science, Earth's Interior, Earth's Changing Surface, and Earth's Waters. Professor Wysession received a Science and Engineering Fellowship from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, a National Science Foundation Presidential Faculty Fellowship, and fellowships from the Kemper and Lily Foundations. He has received the Innovation Award of the St. Louis Science Academy and the Distinguished Faculty Award of Washington University. In 2005, Professor Wysession had a Distinguished Lectureship with the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology and the Seismological Society of America. In 2014, Wysession received the inaugural Ambassador Award of the American Geophysical Union.

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