Physics and Our Universe: How It All Works

Watch Physics and Our Universe: How It All Works

  • 2011
  • 1 Season

Physics and Our Universe: How It All Works is a fascinating and comprehensive educational series from The Great Courses that explores the fundamental principles of physics and how the universe operates. This 24-lecture series is taught by Professor Richard Wolfson, a renowned physicist who specializes in the areas of quantum mechanics and relativity.

Through a combination of clear explanations, engaging examples, and compelling visuals, Physics and Our Universe offers an accessible and engaging introduction to the principles that underpin the physical world. The lectures are designed to be understandable to anyone with a basic understanding of high school math and science, making this an ideal resource for anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of the universe we live in.

The series is divided into three main sections. The first section, Understanding Motion, covers the basic principles of motion and the physics of everyday objects. This includes an exploration of Newton's laws of motion, understanding gravity and how it shapes the universe, and an explanation of how motion relates to energy and work.

The second section of the series, Understanding Waves and Light, delves into the more abstract concepts of physics, including electromagnetic waves, wave-particle duality, and the properties of light. This section also explores how waves and light interact with different materials and how they shape our perception of the world around us.

Finally, the third section, Understanding Quantum Mechanics, introduces the concepts of quantum mechanics and how they apply to our understanding of the universe. This section covers topics such as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, wave function collapse, and quantum entanglement.

Throughout the course, Professor Wolfson also explores the historical context of each concept, providing a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of our understanding of the universe. He explains how, over time, scientists have built upon the work of past generations, refining our understanding of the principles of physics and their applications to the world around us.

In addition to the lectures themselves, Physics and Our Universe also includes a wide range of supplemental materials to help students deepen their understanding of the concepts covered. This includes detailed course notes with key terms and concepts, as well as interactive quizzes and exercises to help solidify understanding of the material covered.

Overall, Physics and Our Universe: How It All Works is an engaging and accessible exploration of the fundamental principles of physics and how they shape our understanding of the world around us. With its clear explanations, compelling visuals, and in-depth exploration of key concepts, this series is an ideal starting point for anyone interested in delving deeper into the workings of the universe.

Physics and Our Universe: How It All Works is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (60 episodes). The series first aired on September 30, 2011.

Physics and Our Universe: How It All Works
Filter by Source

Humble Physics: What We Don't Know
60. Humble Physics: What We Don't Know
September 30, 2011
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.
An Evolving Universe
59. An Evolving Universe
September 30, 2011
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.
The Particle Zoo
58. The Particle Zoo
September 30, 2011
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.
Energy from the Nucleus
57. Energy from the Nucleus
September 30, 2011
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.
The Atomic Nucleus
56. The Atomic Nucleus
September 30, 2011
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.
Molecules and Solids
55. Molecules and Solids
September 30, 2011
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.
54. Atoms
September 30, 2011
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.
Quantum Mechanics
53. Quantum Mechanics
September 30, 2011
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.
Wave or Particle?
52. Wave or Particle?
September 30, 2011
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.
Atomic Quandaries
51. Atomic Quandaries
September 30, 2011
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.
Introducing the Quantum
50. Introducing the Quantum
September 30, 2011
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.
General Relativity
49. General Relativity
September 30, 2011
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.
Space-Time and Mass-Energy
48. Space-Time and Mass-Energy
September 30, 2011
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.
Time and Space
47. Time and Space
September 30, 2011
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.
Special Relativity
46. Special Relativity
September 30, 2011
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.
Earth, Ether, Light
45. Earth, Ether, Light
September 30, 2011
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.
Cracks in the Classical Picture
44. Cracks in the Classical Picture
September 30, 2011
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.
Wave Optics
43. Wave Optics
September 30, 2011
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.
42. Imaging
September 30, 2011
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.
Reflection and Refraction
41. Reflection and Refraction
September 30, 2011
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?
Electromagnetic Waves
40. Electromagnetic Waves
September 30, 2011
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.
39. AC/DC
September 30, 2011
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.
Magnetic Energy
38. Magnetic Energy
September 30, 2011
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.
Applications of Electromagnetic Induction
37. Applications of Electromagnetic Induction
September 30, 2011
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.
Electromagnetic Induction
36. Electromagnetic Induction
September 30, 2011
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.
The Origin of Magnetism
35. The Origin of Magnetism
September 30, 2011
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.
34. Magnetism
September 30, 2011
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.
Electric Circuits
33. Electric Circuits
September 30, 2011
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.
Electric Current
32. Electric Current
September 30, 2011
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.
Electric Energy
31. Electric Energy
September 30, 2011
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.
Electric Potential
30. Electric Potential
September 30, 2011
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.
The Electric Field
29. The Electric Field
September 30, 2011
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.
A Charged World
28. A Charged World
September 30, 2011
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.
Consequences of the Second Law
27. Consequences of the Second Law
September 30, 2011
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.
Entropy: The Second Law of Thermodynamics
26. Entropy: The Second Law of Thermodynamics
September 30, 2011
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.
Heat and Work
25. Heat and Work
September 30, 2011
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.
The Ideal Gas
24. The Ideal Gas
September 30, 2011
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.
Matter and Heat
23. Matter and Heat
September 30, 2011
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.
Heat Transfer
22. Heat Transfer
September 30, 2011
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.
Heat and Temperature
21. Heat and Temperature
September 30, 2011
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.
Fluid Dynamics
20. Fluid Dynamics
September 30, 2011
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.
Fluid Statics: The Tip of the Iceberg
19. Fluid Statics: The Tip of the Iceberg
September 30, 2011
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.
Making Waves
18. Making Waves
September 30, 2011
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.
Back and Forth: Oscillatory Motion
17. Back and Forth: Oscillatory Motion
September 30, 2011
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.
Keeping Still
16. Keeping Still
September 30, 2011
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.
Rotational Motion
15. Rotational Motion
September 30, 2011
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.
Systems of Particles
14. Systems of Particles
September 30, 2011
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.
13. Gravity
September 30, 2011
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.
Using Energy Conservation
12. Using Energy Conservation
September 30, 2011
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.
Work and Energy
11. Work and Energy
September 30, 2011
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.
Newton's Laws in 2 and 3 Dimensions
10. Newton's Laws in 2 and 3 Dimensions
September 30, 2011
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.
Action and Reaction
9. Action and Reaction
September 30, 2011
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.
Using Newton's Laws: 1-D motion
8. Using Newton's Laws: 1-D motion
September 30, 2011
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.
Causes of Motion
7. Causes of Motion
September 30, 2011
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.
Going in Circles
6. Going in Circles
September 30, 2011
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.
It's a 3-D World!
5. It's a 3-D World!
September 30, 2011
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.
Falling Freely
4. Falling Freely
September 30, 2011
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.
Describing Motion
3. Describing Motion
September 30, 2011
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.
Languages of Physics
2. Languages of Physics
September 30, 2011
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.
The Fundamental Science
1. The Fundamental Science
September 30, 2011
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.
Where to Watch Physics and Our Universe: How It All Works
Physics and Our Universe: How It All Works is available for streaming on the The Great Courses website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch Physics and Our Universe: How It All Works on demand at Apple TV Channels, Amazon Prime, Amazon and Hoopla.
  • Premiere Date
    September 30, 2011