This experience is optimized for Internet Explorer version 9 and above.

Please upgrade your browser

Video title

Priority Code

Cancel
Great Ideas of Classical Physics

Great Ideas of Classical Physics

Professor Steven Pollock Ph.D.
University of Colorado, Boulder
Course No.  1295
Course No.  1295
Share:
Video or Audio?
While this set works well in both audio and video format, one or more of the courses in this set feature graphics to enhance your learning experience, including illustrations, images of people and event, and on-screen text.
Which Format Should I Choose? Video Download Audio Download DVD CD
Watch or listen immediately with FREE streaming
Available on most courses
Stream using apps on your iPad, iPhone, Android, or Kindle Fire
Available on most courses
Stream to your internet connected PC or laptop
Available on most courses
Download files for offline viewing or listening
Receive DVDs or CDs for your library
Play as many times as you want
Audio formats include Free Streaming
Audio formats include Free Streaming

Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

There is a hidden order in the ceaselessly changing world around us. It's called classical physics, and it's about how the world is put together. Classical physics is about how things move, why they move, and how they work. It's about making sense of motion, gravity, light, heat, sound, electricity, and magnetism, and seeing how these phenomena interweave to create the rich tapestry of everyday experience.

Sound complicated? It's not—you already know more physics than you think, says award-winning science educator Steven Pollock.

Basic Principles You Can Learn

In this mind-expanding series of 24 lectures, Professor Steven Pollock takes you step by step through the

View More

There is a hidden order in the ceaselessly changing world around us. It's called classical physics, and it's about how the world is put together. Classical physics is about how things move, why they move, and how they work. It's about making sense of motion, gravity, light, heat, sound, electricity, and magnetism, and seeing how these phenomena interweave to create the rich tapestry of everyday experience.

Sound complicated? It's not—you already know more physics than you think, says award-winning science educator Steven Pollock.

Basic Principles You Can Learn

In this mind-expanding series of 24 lectures, Professor Steven Pollock takes you step by step through the Great Ideas of Classical Physics, showing that landmark concepts such as Newton's laws of motion are intuitively understood by anyone who has ever ridden a bike, thrown a ball, slid across ice, or simply picked up an object and set it down.

Created over the course of three centuries by a series of brilliant thinkers, including Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, and James Clerk Maxwell, classical physics is an elegant system of ideas that connect a range of seemingly unrelated phenomena.

Everything from the acceleration of a car, to the orbit of a planet, to the deflection of a compass needle, to the baking of a cake, to the flow of electricity through a light bulb as you read this—and much more—is linked by a set of basic principles that you can learn.

And you don't have to study complicated mathematical equations to see these connections—as Professor Pollock proves by teaching this course largely without math, by relying on metaphor, life experience, ordinary logic, and common sense. Dr. Pollock will be familiar to many Teaching Company customers for his course, Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos.

The Universe Is Your Laboratory

What are the great ideas of classical physics? They are the conceptual tools that allow us to make sense of the world. They include discoveries, theories, insights, methods, and philosophical points of view. You will explore many of these breakthrough ideas, for example:

  • Experiment: It may seem obvious that if you want to understand something, you should experiment on it and not just think about it. But this idea did not catch on until Galileo performed a series of revolutionary investigations of motion in the early 1600s.
  • Use standards: One of the secrets of Galileo's success was that he used standard procedures, units, and techniques of analysis to compare his results. This approach led him to conclusions, like his principle of inertia, that no else had ever imagined.
  • Simplify: Another powerful insight of Galileo's was to start with simple cases and add complexity later. All physicists do this. In fact, they have a joke about it: A physicist is hired to advise a dairy farmer and says, "First, assume a spherical cow"!
  • Recognize the fundamental nature of obvious things: The common observation that hot objects cool down and cold ones warm up became the basis for the second law of thermodynamics, proposed by the French engineer Sadi Carnot in the early 1800s. The second law has profound implications for heat engines and for the "direction" of time.

Along with these and other general concepts, you learn about such basic features of reality as force and energy, space and time, electricity and magnetism; and you learn how these properties interact in a range of situations. As you proceed through the course, you will find that the entire universe—from atoms to galaxies—is your laboratory.

Powerful and Surprisingly Beautiful Ideas

The course opens in ancient Greece with Aristotle's commonsense analysis of motion. His ideas held sway until the early 1600s, when Galileo challenged them with one of the simplest yet most profound experiments of all time—he rolled marbles down an inclined plane.

The technique allowed Galileo to explore the action of gravity "in slow motion" to show that, contrary to Aristotle's claims, all objects fall at the same rate regardless of mass, and that the speed of a falling object steadily increases—it accelerates.

A generation after Galileo, Newton united the laws of heavenly and earthly motion in a grand synthesis that marked the full dawn of classical physics. The exploration of Newton's three laws of motion and his universal law of gravitation forms the core of the first half of the course.

In the second half of the course, Professor Pollock introduces the ideas of electricity and magnetism. Considered curiosities in Newton's day, these seemingly minor marvels were integrated into the classical picture in the 19th century through the remarkable work of Faraday, Maxwell, and others.

The course concludes with a series of lectures on waves, optics, atoms, and thermodynamics, bringing classical physics to the brink of the watershed theories of relativity and quantum mechanics in the early 20th century, which marked the start of modern physics.

Your Homework: Play a Little Bit

Classical physics was invented by people at play, and Dr. Pollock encourages you to do the same. "There will be many times in this course when you should just go after class and play a little bit," he counsels. That's what Galileo, Faraday, and other pioneer scientists did.

Here are some playful activities that Dr. Pollock recommends:

  • Falling objects: When you drop a pen and a piece of paper at the same time, it seems to confirm the commonsense expectation that heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones. But now crumple the sheet of paper and drop them again. What happens?
  • Static electricity: Put one piece of sticky tape on top of another, and then attach them to a table. Label the top piece of tape "T" and the bottom piece "B." Yank the pair off, and then quickly separate them. Investigate their behavior near each other and near identically prepared pieces. What's going on?
  • Magnetism: Using two magnets, probe their interacting force fields by passing one all around the other. Where are the areas of attraction and repulsion? What accounts for this invisible force?
  • Waves: A Slinky demonstrates the particlelike properties of some waves. To see how, expand a Slinky and jerk your hand, making a pulse travel from one end to the other. Like a particle, the pulse is localized; it also has a speed, and it can reflect off boundaries. Yet it is a wave.

The Course Guidebook that comes with this course includes many more activities for creative play through online computer simulations, developed by Dr. Pollock's education research colleagues.

On the Shoulders of Giants

Some people accept the mystery of the world at face value and never inquire further. Physicists can't help but seek answers, and you will feel the same way.

If you want to understand how a baseball behaves in a baseball stadium, or how the electricity for your house is generated, or how your microwave oven works, these are ideas that can be understood from classical physics. If you are concerned about energy and the environment, then the tools provided by this course are sufficient for you to understand the scientific questions.

Isaac Newton once commented that if he had seen farther than others, it was because he stood on the shoulders of giants. "Classical physics is the giant on whose shoulder we stand today," says Professor Pollock, "as we move into new realms of study, into modern physics, or contemporary biology, or any of a number of modern disciplines."

View Less
24 Lectures
  • 1
    The Great Ideas of Classical Physics
    Professor Pollock opens the course with an overview of the domain of classical physics: forces and motion, matter and energy, space and time, and particles and waves. x
  • 2
    Describing Motion—A Break from Aristotle
    Greek natural philosophers made enormous progress 2,000 years ago but missed something essential in their analysis of nature—the scientific method. This lecture examines Galileo's challenge to ancient ideas. x
  • 3
    Describing Ever More Complex Motion
    Galileo's study of marbles rolling down ramps led to a distinction between velocity and acceleration. Acceleration is one of the paradigmatic ideas in physics, relating to the concept of rate of change. x
  • 4
    Astronomy as a Bridge to Modern Physics
    Speculations on Earth's place in the universe, the nature of planets, and the structure of the solar system were at the heart of the development of classical physics. This lecture looks at the work of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo. x
  • 5
    Isaac Newton—The Dawn of Classical Physics
    The turning point in the development of classical physics traces to Isaac Newton. This lecture covers Newton's background and the first two of his laws of motion, involving inertia (mass), acceleration, and force. x
  • 6
    Newton Quantified—Force and Acceleration
    The master idea for this course is Newton's statement of the relationship between force and acceleration: F = ma. This formula determines almost all of classical physics. It is at once simple and deep. x
  • 7
    Newton and the Connections to Astronomy
    Thinking about circular motion led Newton to an understanding of planetary motion, closing the loop with Galileo, Kepler, and Copernicus, and making sense of a Sun-centered solar system and its connection to everyday motion. x
  • 8
    Universal Gravitation
    Newton's deduction of the law of gravity involved some speculation, just a little math, and a lot of creativity. Remarkably, it succeeded in unifying terrestrial and celestial phenomena into one framework. x
  • 9
    Newton's Third Law
    Newton's third law of motion ("for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction") can be exasperatingly counterintuitive at first, but it makes perfect sense in terms of a new quantity, momentum. x
  • 10
    Conservation of Momentum
    Introducing the concept of momentum broadens the power of physics and results in the Newtonian world-view of the universe as a deterministic clockwork, based on only a few basic underlying and unified principles. x
  • 11
    Beyond Newton—Work and Energy
    A century after Newton, a new concept more abstract than force gained popularity: energy. Energy forms the basis of understanding everything from chemistry and biology to geology and engineering. x
  • 12
    Power and the Newtonian Synthesis
    The concept that energy can move from place to place and change forms helps explain why things behave as they do. The rate at which energy flows from one system to another (the power) explains even more. x
  • 13
    Further Developments—Static Electricity
    In Newton's day, electricity and magnetism were mere curiosities. By the 19th century, serious investigation into these phenomena began. Though heralded as "new" forces of nature, they still fit within the Newtonian framework. x
  • 14
    Electricity, Magnetism, and Force Fields
    In his studies of electricity and magnetism, Michael Faraday introduced the radical idea of the force "field." Sources create a field around them, and other objects then respond locally to that field. x
  • 15
    Electrical Currents and Voltage
    This lecture covers electrical concepts such as charge, voltage, and current. Progress in understanding electricity in the 19th century led to rapid developments in applied physics. x
  • 16
    The Origin of Electric and Magnetic Fields
    Electricity and magnetism are distinct but intimately related. This lecture explores the myriad connections between them, leading to a deeper understanding of the unity of electromagnetic physics. x
  • 17
    Unification I—Maxwell's Equations
    In one of the great triumphs of classical physics, James Clerk Maxwell summarized two centuries of research on electricity and magnetism in four famous equations, explained here in words and concepts. x
  • 18
    Unification II—Electromagnetism and Light
    Published in the 1860s, Maxwell's equations made a startling prediction: Electric and magnetic fields should interact to produce electromagnetic waves—of which visible light is only a tiny range of a vast spectrum. x
  • 19
    Vibrations and Waves
    Vibrations and the associated phenomenon of waves are everywhere in the natural world. Understanding the big ideas of waves plays a key role in the developing story of physics. x
  • 20
    Sound Waves and Light Waves
    One hundred years after Newton described light as a stream of particles, Thomas Young turned the world of optics on its head when he demonstrated that light was not made of particles but was in fact a wave phenomenon. x
  • 21
    The Atomic Hypothesis
    Atoms provide a unifying principle even greater than Maxwell's equations. Energy, structure of materials, chemistry, heat, optics, and much more become simpler to describe and explain at a fundamental level. x
  • 22
    Energy in Systems—Heat and Thermodynamics
    Thermodynamics is the study of heat and energy. When there are large numbers of particles, average quantities become easier, not more difficult, to predict. This is the heart of thermodynamics. x
  • 23
    Heat and the Second Law of Thermodynamics
    One of the last great developments of classic physics was the discovery of a new property of systems, entropy, defined colloquially as "you can't win, you can't break even, and you can't get out of the game." x
  • 24
    The Grand Picture of Classical Physics
    Classical physics is defined in part historically and in part by a philosophical outlook: The world is ordered, and there is a limited set of fundamental ideas that explain and predict all natural phenomena. x

Lecture Titles

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

Your professor

Steven Pollock
Ph.D. Steven Pollock
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 Coloradoπs 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.

View More information About This Professor
Also By This Professor
View All Courses By This Professor

Reviews

Rated 4.1 out of 5 by 49 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Very good overview I missed out on taking physics in school, but have always loved history. This course filled both categories. Though certainly not a substitute for the study of physics, it is a good overview of the genesis and development of major theories and points of understanding in physics. April 12, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by The title says it all. This is neither a quantitative course, nor a course for passive listening. If you are wondering whether or not you need the video version, I recommend audio with this one. If you want to hear a knowledgable professor give a logical progression of many of the great ideas of physics, with bits of historical context thrown in, then this course is for you. January 14, 2014
Rated 1 out of 5 by Gesticulation over the top Learning why religion and the church are bad will not help me on my next Physics exam. This presentation was juvenile. I can see the potential with this professor but he clearly has some issues that stand in the way of the subject-matter. I needed what was advertised. Horrible job. However I have bought many courses from this company and this is the first bad one for me. September 6, 2013
Rated 3 out of 5 by Not enough substance This course was way too hand wavy for my taste. We got f=ma, but little else in the way of meat on the bones. Kepler's laws were so watered down as to be almost unrecognizable. Certainly I can see that Maxwell's equations would be a bit much for a course such as this, but the equation for gravitational attraction isn't beyond a layman's grasp. It seemed like the instructor spent more time talking about there being great ideas in classical physics than he did in actually presenting them. March 4, 2013
2 3 next>>

Questions & Answers

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought

Some courses include Free digital streaming.

Enjoy instantly on your computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone.