10 great physics courses you can take online right now, for free

Here are 10 physics courses you can take now with some of the best experts in the world.

10 great physics courses you can take online right now, for free
  • You can find numerous physics courses currently available online for free.
  • Courses are taught by instructors with amazing credits like Nobel Prizes and field-defining work.
  • Topics range from introductory to Einstein's theory of relativity, particle physics, dark energy, quantum mechanics, and more.

The internet has in many ways fulfilled its educational promise and can be an amazing resource to learn pretty much anything. This is especially true if you have an interest in physics, the study of matter, energy and the fundamental interactions and forces of our universe. There are hundreds of great free courses available, with field-leading and even Nobel Prize-winning instructors.

To get you started, we distilled through the resources to come up with a list of 10 courses you can take right now and get your physics journey under way.

Here we go:

1. How Things Work: An Introduction to Physics

A great intro course that looks at physics in the context of everyday objects and processes. How does skating work? Why do things fall? The course uses the cases of ramps, wheels, bumper cars and more to illuminate the physics of life around you. It is taught by the University of Virginia physics professor Louis A. Bloomfield, a noted science educator, lecturer, author, as well as tv host.


2. Fundamentals of Physics I

If you want to brush up on the essential concepts of physics, this course from Yale University might be for you. Taught by the physics professor Ramamurti Shankar, the lessons cover the principles and methods of physics, focusing on problem solving, quantitative reasoning and such concepts as Newtonian mechanics, special relativity, gravitation, waves, and thermodynamics.


3. Astrophysics: The Violent Universe

Would you like to know about some of the most mysterious phenomena in the Universe? This fun course will bring you up to speed on white dwarfs, supernovae, neutron stars and black holes.

The 9-week course from the Australian National University has over 60,000 people enrolled, and is taught by Brian Schmidt, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist for his work on discovering dark energy. His co-teacher is the science educator and astrophysics researcher Paul Francis, who has a PhD from the University of Cambridge and has worked with NASA. He is particularly known for working on the spectra of quasars.


4. From the Big Bang to Dark Energy

Want to get a general introduction to some of the main ideas about how the Universe was formed and where it's going? The Big Bang, the formation of the elements, the Higgs Boson, dark matter, dark energy and anti-matter all feature prominently in this 14-hour course, offered by the University of Tokyo.

It is taught by Hitoshi Murayama, a University of California, Berkley physics professor and the Director of Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe.


5. Physics: Intro to Electricity & Magnetism

Want to understand Electricity and Magnetism? Take this course that currently has over 16,000 online students! This course was created by Scott Redmond, who worked previously in support of the International Space Station as a Mission Operations Analyst and conducted astronaut training before turning to teaching physics. The course offers 46 lectures in over 4 hours of video content and additional materials.


6. Understanding Einstein: The Special Theory of Relativity

This interesting 8-week course, taught by Stanford University's Academic Director and historian of science Larry Randles Lagerstrom, goes deep into how Einstein came up with his famous theory. While setting up the background in both history and theory, the class provides a richer understanding of the theory of relativity itself.


7. Quantum Mechanics: Wavefunctions, Operators, and Expectation Values

This advanced 7-week course from MIT will teach you the basics of quantum mechanics, introducing such concepts as wavefunctions, the Schrodinger equation, uncertainty relations and the properties of quantum observables. The course is intended for people with previous college-level calculus and physics courses under their belt.

The currently archived but available course is taught by the MIT physics professor Barton Zwiebach, a specialist in string theory and theoretical particle physics, along with MIT physics lecturer Jolyon Bloomfield.


8. Particle Physics: an Introduction

If learning about the workings of very small things sounds appealing and you love supercolliders, this is the course for you. In this class you will learn about subatomic physics, including the properties of atomic nuclei, how to detect and accelerate particles, as well as about electromagnetic, strong and weak interactions. And, of course, the Higgs Boson makes an appearance. The lessons will also talk about how to connect particle physics to astrophysics and the larger questions of the Universe.

This 31-hour course from the University of Geneva is taught by professor Marin Pohl, who works in experimental particle physics on European colliders like the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) in Switzerland. His current focus is astroparticle physics in space. The course's second teacher is assistant professor Anna Sfyrla, an experimental particle physicist, who teachers at the University of Geneva.


9. Fundamental Lessons from String Theory

Is the Universe made of strings? If you're ready to dive into some of the headier explanations for everything in existence, take this great master class which can be completed in a few hours. It is taught by the Harvard University physics professor and string theory expert Cumrun Vafa, and was developed with the world-renowned string theorist Andrew Strominger.


10. Relativity and Astrophysics

If you want to further under understanding of Einstein's theory of relativity, you'd be interested in its connection to astronomy as explored in this course from Cornell University. Taught by astronomy professor David F. Chernoff, an expert in theoretical astrophysics, the lessons will deepen your knowledge by zeroing in on special and general relativity as well as experimental tests you can carry out to study them. You will also get to analyze paradoxes in special relativity and learn how relativity affects daily situations.

The prerequisite for this 4-week (currently archived but available) course requires at least high school level math and physics or an intro college course in both.


Malcolm Gladwell live | How to re-examine everything you know

Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET today as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to your calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo

Keep reading Show less

There are 5 eras in the universe's lifecycle. Right now, we're in the second era.

Astronomers find these five chapters to be a handy way of conceiving the universe's incredibly long lifespan.

Image based on logarithmic maps of the Universe put together by Princeton University researchers, and images produced by NASA based on observations made by their telescopes and roving spacecraft

Image source: Pablo Carlos Budassi
Surprising Science
  • We're in the middle, or thereabouts, of the universe's Stelliferous era.
  • If you think there's a lot going on out there now, the first era's drama makes things these days look pretty calm.
  • Scientists attempt to understand the past and present by bringing together the last couple of centuries' major schools of thought.
Keep reading Show less

Ever wonder how LSD works? An answer has been discovered.

UNC School of Medicine researchers identified the amino acid responsible for the trip.

Credit: Motortion Films / Shutterstock
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at UNC's School of Medicine have discovered the protein responsible for LSD's psychedelic effects.
  • A single amino acid—part of the protein, Gαq—activates the mind-bending experience.
  • The researchers hope this identification helps shape depression treatment.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists uncover the brain circuitry that causes mysterious dissociative experiences

A team of researchers have discovered the brain rhythmic activity that can split us from reality.

Mind & Brain
  • Researchers have identified the key rhythmic brain activity that triggers a bizarre experience called dissociation in which people can feel detached from their identity and environment.
  • This phenomena is experienced by about 2 percent to 10 percent of the population. Nearly 3 out of 4 individuals who have experienced a traumatic event will slip into a dissociative state either during the event or sometime after.
  • The findings implicate a specific protein in a certain set of cells as key to the feeling of dissociation, and it could lead to better-targeted therapies for conditions in which dissociation can occur.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…