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

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

Professor Steven Pollock, Ph.D.
University of Colorado, Boulder

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

Course No. 1247
Professor Steven Pollock, Ph.D.
University of Colorado, Boulder
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4.7 out of 5
110 Reviews
84% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 1247
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is not heavily illustrated, featuring around 200 graphs, diagrams, and illustrations. The illustrations show how scientists visualize concepts including neutrinos, quarks, and the Higgs Particle, while the graphs and diagrams highlight the standard model of particle physics and theoretical ideas about the origin of the universe. There are on-screen spellings and definitions to help reinforce material for visual learners.
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Course Overview

This two-part series explains, in easily accessible terms, the discovery of the infinitely small particles-the quarks and neutrinos, muons and bosons-that make up everything in nature, from microbes to stars.

It covers the nature and functions of the individual particles, and their roles in the Standard Model of particle physics (a theory that is as much a masterpiece in science as Shakespeare's works are in literature). The lectures also trace the history of particle physics as a science, and the dedicated scientists and complex technology that have made this branch of physics so profoundly productive and important.

This course provides a framework to understand such cutting-edge physics research as gravity waves, dark matter, and string theory.

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24 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    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. x
  • 2
    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? x
  • 3
    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? x
  • 4
    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. x
  • 5
    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. x
  • 6
    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. x
  • 7
    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. x
  • 8
    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. x
  • 9
    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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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). x
  • 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. x
  • 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! x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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? x
  • 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? x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x

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  • Ability to download 24 audio lectures from your digital library
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DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 202-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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CD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 12 CDs
  • 202-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 202-page printed course guidebook
  • Charts & diagrams
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Steven Pollock

About Your Professor

Steven Pollock, Ph.D.
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...
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Reviews

Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 110.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course I’ve always been interested in physics, but never had the math skills to study it deeply. Instead, I consume various popular level books on the subject. Professor Pollock’s presentation of this complex subject is on the level of the best I’ve seen or read. Even though I have some exposure to the subject through books, I still learned quite a bit. It’s a hard subject, and it is always useful to me to hear it explained from a different point of view. Professor Pollock’s presentation is clear, straightforward, with a minimum of math and frequent examples to help with the explanations. Like most of those presenting physics to non-physicists, he generally uses a historical approach, describing the progression of knowledge and discovery along with the scientists and their experiments along the way. Though I’ve heard some of it before, this course nevertheless felt fresh. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions on the development of the particle accelerators over time (I think you could make a great course just on the engineering behind a lot of these physics experiments - not just the results, but how people were able to design and build subtitle equipment to get the results). The only flaw in the course is that it is in need of an update. Professor Pollock discusses upgrades to the LHC at CERN and the hopes that it might find the Higgs particle. Of course, we now know that they were successful! Likewise, Pollock discusses the super-symmetry theories, which as I understand, haven’t really panned out based on the latest from CERN. The best courses make you sorry when they end, and force you to seek out other ways to continue the subject. This is such a course - I’ve already checked out a couple of recent physics books from the library in the hopes of learning even more.
Date published: 2017-06-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Charming Charming and engaging presenter with the added nuance of being non-dogmatic and understanding the importance highlighting the potential of being not entirely correct. The complete lack of equations I'm sure made it difficult to develop the course without utterly misleading the audience. For those of us that like some math, I suggest doing the course with some side books on the subject or regular Wikipedia lookups as a given item comes up. In particular his clear love of the story and honest sidebands of the egos and actors makes this enjoyable and engaging. I know a little too much on the subject at hand to probably judge clearly but I suspect this would be a great intro or gift to the curious mate or friend that is in fear of the sciences or math.
Date published: 2017-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a Great Course! My Bachelor's degree is in Maths and Physics from Cambridge University, UK. I studied quantum mechanics and learned about the discovery of a few key particles - but that was 50 years ago! I followed some of the particle physics developments in magazines like Scientific American, New Scientist, and Discovery. Recently, I decided to purchase this course to learn more about the subject (prompted by one of the Great Courses sales), to fill in the many gaps in my knowledge, and to be updated to the present (well, to 2003, which is near enough). I am very glad that I did so. The course gives a very clear view of the development of the field of particle physics, the discoveries, the key ideas, and some of the human aspects behind the research. Professor Pollock is a great lecturer. His style is engaging, clear, and informative. I would be happy to see other courses that he presents. Personally, I think it might have been good just to exhibit the Schrodinger and Dirac equations, to show their simplicity, and to explain their meaning in a few words. I'm sure that, done properly, even the mathophobes could appreciate them. I confess I am only 2/3 of the way through the course, but I am confident in my judgement that it is indeed Great.
Date published: 2017-04-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from OK but such slow nothingness at beginning The professor mosies on around saying nothing for so very long. Way too many lectures spent on nothingness. Particle physics presented is OK, but too historically organized, so therefore not so easy to comprehend. Even Prof Carroll of Higgs Boson course who is not the best at conceptual chunking (but superb otherwise) did a way better organization of the particles presentation. (Oversimplifying a bit, "conceptual chunking" means making a myriad of facts seem like just manifestations that are obviously entailed by one or two facts that you have to remember.) I recommend the Higgs, NOT JUST BECAUSE of the Higgs material itself though. I recommend the Higgs INSTEAD of this course because this course is ANNOYINGLY ponderous -- talking about nothing for so long. It's akin to what people do when they tell you about a great movie and then go on and on and on with "then he... then .... then" Now really? If you haven't seen the movie could the PLOT be interesting to you? Unlikely. What's REALLY happening is that the person is RE-watching the movie in their head (instead of on a screen or monitor) as they are allegedly speaking to you. It's rude. This analogy complete, the professor is thinking about all the wonderful things he's going to tell you in the lectures ahead. Savoring them in his mind. But they're all impending things -- ahead. I don't want to listen to him saying nothing because wonderful things will be in the later lectures. It does almost count as rude -- like the person re-living the movie in their head by telling you the whole plot. If you want a historical jumble -- which is how, in truth, science really happens, then maybe this course is good. Even so, however, the many earlier lectures are boring because they are so so dilute. Not that you need an analogy, but here it is. Make a proper iced tea, then put two teaspoons of that prepared tea in a 12 ounce glass and add water to fill the glass. I for one don't savor water when I'm expecting to taste tea. Too many of the early lectures are like that. So the Higgs is better because of PROPER concentration, and DEEP DEEP DEEP PROFOUND POINTS -- many of them. And all are accessible. Unless you want to become a historian or sociologist of science (but NOT philosopher) I don't see why you'd get this course rather than the Higgs.
Date published: 2016-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Tough Road and a Successful Journey I had previously weighed in on Professor Pollock's course on Classical Physics, believing it was a tad "dumbed down." I am happy to report that Professor Pollock gives just the right emphasis on this course, which tackles some of the truly tough ideas that ultimately bring together the Standard Model of Particle Physics. While it is now a bit dated, having not been able to assess the discovery of the Higgs boson, Professor Pollock has done an admirable job of sorting out and describing many of the principal actors in the Particle Zoo. He did not talk down to me, although I'm sure the temptation was there. Unlike some of the Great Courses, I found this one to have taken wonderful advantage of numerous video elements. I recognize that, while Einstein long doubted the efficacy of quantum mechanics, Professor Pollock may well be the teacher we all wish we had.
Date published: 2016-11-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Insightful coverage of a tough subject These lectures omit the math that would defeat most laymen but they include a detailed history of how the discoveries progressed--and I mean detailed. I expected the maths to be glossed over but the depth of history was a wonderful surprise, making the sub-atomic relationships memorable. A brilliant treatment of what is possibly the most thorny of subjects.
Date published: 2016-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good course with excellent teacher. One of the very best teachers I've seen from the Learning Company. Not just a lecturer and, thank God, not one who merely reads his presentation. He's a TEACHER, speaking freely with great enthusiasm, wit and apt analogies. He presents the course in as simple a language as possible while still being complete and accurate. While I don't pretend to have understood many of the more esoteric subjects I have learned a great deal about a complex area. This is truly a course for everyone who has an interest. The main regret I have with these courses is not being able to ask the professors questions. And this professor would be at the top of my list of those I'd like to question. Couldn't TLC provide a website or some means to do just that. A question and answer forum would be great.
Date published: 2016-08-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Nice overview for both amateurs and scientists Professor Pollock does a great job providing an overview of the state of particle physics. He describes the important concepts and history accurately without overwhelming math. Things are always moving in this field, and there needs to be an update that the Higgs boson has been found!
Date published: 2016-08-17
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