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.