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The physical world

If you intend to take only one module in physics, it should be this one. It will give you an essential view of the whole subject. Physics is perhaps the most exciting intellectual adventure of our age – discoveries being made now will change your life, and learning physics will change the way you think about the world. This wide-ranging introduction to physics and its applications covers classical mechanics; thermal physics and fluids; fields, waves and electromagnetism; relativity; and quantum physics (including solids, atoms, nuclei and particles) – setting many of them in their historical context so that you can appreciate the evolution of the subject.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
2 9 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Am I ready?

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What you will study

Natural curiosity leads all of us to ask how the world works. Physics provides the deepest and most reliable scientific answers. This module makes physics very accessible. It will give you an appreciation of the wide relevance of physical principles to the natural and technological worlds. If your aim is to specialise, this is the most appropriate place to start, after you have completed an OU level 1 module in science or maths or an appropriate technology module.

The text is presented in eight richly illustrated books, each supported by a video sequence and a few carefully designed computer activities, provided on DVD-ROM.

Book 1 The restless universe provides a non-mathematical overview of the module by bringing together the biggest ideas from every part of physics. The video sequence and DVD activities introduce the ‘big bang’ and give you some idea of the range of objects, from quarks to quasars, which physics tries to describe.

Book 2 Describing motion deals with the various forms of motion that arise in the physical world, and the quantitative methods used to describe them. The topics include the free-fall motion of micro-gravity test vehicles, the trajectories of long-jumpers, and the orbital motion of satellites and space probes. This book also covers, at some length, some essential mathematical tools that you will need later in the module.

Book 3 Predicting motion introduces force as the cause of change in the physical world, and asks how accurately the effect that forces have on the motion of a body can be predicted. Systems as diverse as colliding galaxies and decaying nuclei are considered, and essential concepts such as energy and momentum are explored. The book also has an optional section that discusses chaos and the limits of predictability.

Book 4 Classical physics of matter is concerned with the properties of matter that can be explained more or less directly in terms of classical physics. Among the topics are the principles of flight and the operation of engines and refrigerators. The discussion introduces ideas such as temperature, heat and entropy that will take you beyond Newtonian mechanics and into the realm of thermodynamics and statistical physics.

Book 5 Static fields and potentials describes two of the fundamental interactions in nature: gravity and electromagnetism. The associated fields, potentials and energies are introduced and the relationships between them explained. You will learn how these interactions manifest themselves in different ways, from the formation of stars to the operation of thunderstorms. You will also see how they are harnessed technologically in applications such as hydroelectricity, electrical circuitry and DNA fingerprinting.

Book 6 Dynamic fields and waves concentrates on electric and magnetic fields that vary with time, including light and other electromagnetic waves. Waves in general and light waves in particular are discussed, together with optical instruments such as telescopes and microscopes, and electrical devices such as generators and transformers. This book also explores Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which gives us our most basic insight into space and time.

Book 7 Quantum physics: an introduction guides you through the profound revolution in scientific thinking that overthrew classical physics in favour of quantum physics. You will learn the basic ideas of quantum physics and see their power in predicting the behaviour of matter on the atomic scale, including the emission of light by atoms (spectra) and the operation of lasers. You will also learn why the interpretation of quantum physics is still the subject of intense debate among scientists.

Book 8 Quantum physics of matter explores the way in which quantum physics determines the properties of materials. The quantum physics of solids, for example, dictates whether they are good insulators, semiconductors, conductors or even superconductors. At a deeper level, the quantum physics of nuclei and elementary particles determines the stability of matter and hence the range of substances that came into existence through the ‘big bang’ and the evolution of stars.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module. 

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with the OU before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

You will, however, be granted the option of submitting on paper if typesetting electronically or merging scanned images of your answers to produce an electronic TMA would take you an unacceptably long time.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2014 when it will be available for the last time.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
1 Computer-marked assignment (CMA)
7 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This OU level 2 module offers a widely accessible route into physics, suitable for students from a range of backgrounds. However, to successfully complete the module you do need some basic scientific and mathematical skills. 

You should be familiar with basic algebraic manipulation (rearranging and combining equations etc.); addition and multiplication of fractions; scientific notation; logarithms; elementary geometry and trigonometry; vectors; and with scientific uses of statistics and probability. You should also be able to plot and interpret graphs, use a scientific calculator, and understand the use of unit (dimensional) analysis. A familiarity with the elementary concepts of calculus (differentiation) is also an advantage.

An appropriate level of mathematical and scientific knowledge can be obtained by studying the OU level 1 modules, Maths for science (S151) or Essential mathematics 1 (MST124) (or the discontinued MST121), and Exploring science (S104).

It is essential that you establish whether or not your background and experience give you a sound basis on which to tackle the module, since students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully. The Science Faculty has produced a booklet Are You Ready For S207? to help you to decide whether you already have the recommended background knowledge or experience to start the module or whether you first need to study appropriate OU level 1 modules. This can be viewed as an interactive program for PC or printed as a PDF from the Are you ready for Science? website. 

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.


Start End England fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015 £2632.00

Registration closes 18/09/14 (places subject to availability)


The deadline for financial support applications has now passed

October 2014 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in 10 OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. You may, for example wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser.

Note: Your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is based upon current details for  year 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015.
This information was provided on 17/09/2014.

What's included

Module books, other printed materials, DVD-ROMs.

You will need

Scientific calculator.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module. It includes online activities – you can access using a web browser – and some module software provided on disk.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer running Windows since 2008 you should have no problems completing the computer-based activities.
  • A netbook, tablet or other mobile device is not suitable for this module – check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you have an Apple Mac or Linux computer – please note that you can only use it for this module by running Windows on it using Boot Camp or a similar dual-boot system.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information (including details of the support we provide).

If you have a disability

The module utilises large numbers of coloured illustrations, video sequences and some computer activities, several of which cannot be fully described in words. It is possible to complete and pass the module without looking at the video sequences and computer activities, however students with impaired sight or colour perception may benefit from the support of a sighted assistant.

The printed study materials are available on audio in DAISY Digital Talking Book format or in comb-bound format. Transcripts are available for the audio-visual material. Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of the study material are available, however some components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical or scientific materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Other formats may be available in the future.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.