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.


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For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.


"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.


If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."