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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.
- 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
So far, 30 student teams have entered the Indy Autonomous Challenge, scheduled for October 2021.
- The Indy Autonomous Challenge will task student teams with developing self-driving software for race cars.
- The competition requires cars to complete 20 laps within 25 minutes, meaning cars would need to average about 110 mph.
- The organizers say they hope to advance the field of driverless cars and "inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>Completing the race in 25 minutes means the cars will need to average about 110 miles per hour. So, while the race may end up being a bit slower than a typical Indy 500 competition, in which winners average speeds of over 160 mph, it's still set to be the fastest autonomous race featuring full-size cars.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There is no human redundancy there," Matt Peak, managing director for Energy Systems Network, a nonprofit that develops technology for the automation and energy sectors, told the <a href="https://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2020/06/01/Indy-Autonomous-Challenge-Indy-500-Indianapolis-Motor-Speedway-Ansys-Aptiv-self-driving-cars/stories/202005280137" target="_blank">Pittsburgh Post-Gazette</a>. "Either your car makes this happen or smash into the wall you go."</p>
Illustration of the Indy Autonomous Challenge
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>The Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://www.indyautonomouschallenge.com/rules" target="_blank">describes</a> itself as a "past-the-post" competition, which "refers to a binary, objective, measurable performance rather than a subjective evaluation, judgement, or recognition."</p><p>This competition design was inspired by the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge, which tasked teams with developing driverless cars and sending them along a 150-mile route in Southern California for a chance to win $1 million. But that prize went unclaimed, because within a few hours after starting, all the vehicles had suffered some kind of critical failure.</p>
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>One factor that could prevent a similar outcome in the upcoming race is the ability to test-run cars on a virtual racetrack. The simulation software company Ansys Inc. has already developed a model of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on which teams will test their algorithms as part of a series of qualifying rounds.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We can create, with physics, multiple real-life scenarios that are reflective of the real world," Ansys President Ajei Gopal told <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/autonomous-vehicles-to-race-at-indianapolis-motor-speedway-11595237401?mod=e2tw" target="_blank">The Wall Street Journal</a>. "We can use that to train the AI, so it starts to come up to speed."</p><p>Still, the race could reveal that self-driving cars aren't quite ready to race at speeds of over 110 mph. After all, regular self-driving cars already face enough logistical and technical roadblocks, including <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53349313#:~:text=Tesla%20will%20be%20able%20to,no%20driver%20input%2C%20he%20said." target="_blank">crumbling infrastructure, communication issues</a> and the <a href="https://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/would-you-ride-in-a-car-thats-programmed-to-kill-you" target="_self">fateful moral decisions driverless cars will have to make in split seconds</a>.</p>But the Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5da73021d0636f4ec706fa0a/t/5dc0680c41954d4ef41ec2b2/1572890638793/Indy+Autonomous+Challenge+Ruleset+-+v5NOV2019+%282%29.pdf" target="_blank">says</a> its main goal is to advance the industry, by challenging "students around the world to imagine, invent, and prove a new generation of automated vehicle (AV) software and inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.
- A study at Harvard's McLean Hospital claims that using the language of chemical imbalances worsens patient outcomes.
- Though psychiatry has largely abandoned DSM categories, professor Joseph E Davis writes that the field continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system."
- Chemical explanations of mental health appear to benefit pharmaceutical companies far more than patients.
Challenging the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Mental Disorders: Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="41699c8c2cb2aee9271a36646e0bee7d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-8BDC7i8Yyw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This is a far cry from Howard Rusk's 1947 NY Times editorial calling for mental healt</p><p>h disorders to be treated similarly to physical disease (such as diabetes and cancer). This mindset—not attributable to Rusk alone; he was merely relaying the psychiatric currency of the time—has dominated the field for decades: mental anguish is a genetic and/or chemical-deficiency disorder that must be treated pharmacologically.</p><p>Even as psychiatry untethered from DSM categories, the field still used chemistry to validate its existence. Psychotherapy, arguably the most efficient means for managing much of our anxiety and depression, is time- and labor-intensive. Counseling requires an empathetic and wizened ear to guide the patient to do the work. Ingesting a pill to do that work for you is more seductive, and easier. As Davis writes, even though the industry abandoned the DSM, it continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system." </p><p>That language has infiltrated public consciousness. The team at McLean surveyed 279 patients seeking acute treatment for depression. As they note, the causes of psychological distress have constantly shifted over the millennia: humoral imbalance in the ancient world; spiritual possession in medieval times; early childhood experiences around the time of Freud; maladaptive thought patterns dominant in the latter half of last century. While the team found that psychosocial explanations remain popular, biogenetic explanations (such as the chemical imbalance theory) are becoming more prominent. </p><p>Interestingly, the 80 people Davis interviewed for his book predominantly relied on biogenetic explanations. Instead of doctors diagnosing patients, as you might expect, they increasingly serve to confirm what patients come in suspecting. Patients arrive at medical offices confident in their self-diagnoses. They believe a pill is the best course of treatment, largely because they saw an advertisement or listened to a friend. Doctors too often oblige without further curiosity as to the reasons for their distress. </p>
Image: Illustration Forest / Shutterstock<p>While medicalizing mental health softens the stigma of depression—if a disorder is inheritable, it was never really your fault—it also disempowers the patient. The team at McLean writes,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"More recent studies indicate that participants who are told that their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic abnormality expect to have depression for a longer period, report more depressive symptoms, and feel they have less control over their negative emotions."</p><p>Davis points out the language used by direct-to-consumer advertising prevalent in America. Doctors, media, and advertising agencies converge around common messages, such as everyday blues is a "real medical condition," everyone is susceptible to clinical depression, and drugs correct underlying somatic conditions that you never consciously control. He continues,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Your inner life and evaluative stance are of marginal, if any, relevance; counseling or psychotherapy aimed at self-insight would serve little purpose." </p><p>The McLean team discovered a similar phenomenon: patients expect little from psychotherapy and a lot from pills. When depression is treated as the result of an internal and immutable essence instead of environmental conditions, behavioral changes are not expected to make much difference. Chemistry rules the popular imagination.</p>