Physics and space
In this wholly online module, you’ll examine fundamental concepts in physics and the space sciences. Its nine highly relevant topics and practical activities will help prepare you to study physics, astronomy or planetary science at OU level 2. You’ll learn through solving physical science problems while acquiring computer programming knowledge and practising your existing maths skills.
What you will study
To begin, you’ll develop your understanding of different scales – particularly those that are much larger or smaller than will be familiar to you. Through the nine topics, you’ll then meet concepts and principles in classical and quantum physics and the space sciences. Alongside each topic, you’ll practise your maths skills, applying them to problems in physical sciences.
Topic 1 – Forces around you
You’ll explore the types of forces encountered in everyday life, including elastic and frictional forces, as well as gravitational and electromagnetic forces.
Topic 2 – An introduction to energy
You’ll meet the concept of energy and the idea of energy conservation. You’ll learn about some of the different forms that energy can take, including kinetic energy and potential energy, as well as the notions of work and heat.
Topic 3 – Material worlds
You’ll examine how the microscopic structure of materials – at the level of atoms, ions, and electrons – explains some of the ways in which materials behave, through the concept of chemical bonding.
Topic 4 – The quantum realm
This topic will introduce you to the world of quantum phenomena, including the uncertainty principle, wave-particle duality and quantum numbers in atoms – leading to an understanding of the periodic table.
Topic 5 – Energy in society
You’ll explore different fuel sources and look at how energy is used to heat our homes and in transport.
Topic 6 – Nuclei and particles
You’ll learn about the subatomic components of the world around us, including radioactivity and the fundamental particles of matter, as well as the processes that govern their interactions.
Topic 7 – Components of the Universe
You’ll explore the galaxies, stars and planets that make up the Universe and understand how astronomers are able to study objects that are very distant from Earth, including exoplanets and dark matter.
Topic 8 – Exploring the Solar System
You’ll discover for yourself how the various planets, moons, asteroids and comets of our Solar System are explored using landers and remote-sensing spacecraft.
Topic 9 – How the Universe works
You’ll learn about the expansion and cooling of the Universe, how it evolved from the Big Bang to the present day, and its likely future.
Some topics include home-based experiments, which you’ll carry out using everyday items. You’ll also conduct two online practical activities: based on data from a weather station and using a radioactive particle detector called a cloud chamber. The online activities provide you with opportunities for collaborative teamwork with your fellow students.
You’ll also be introduced to computer coding, using the Python programming language. Throughout your learning, in a series of dedicated study weeks, you’ll develop your understanding of coding and apply your newly developed skills writing simple programs to solve physical science problems.
You will learn
You’ll learn key physics, astronomy and planetary science concepts and develop your own scientific thinking. You’ll learn fundamentals of computer programming relevant for applications in physical sciences and practice applying your mathematical skills to problems in physical sciences. You’ll also develop your skills for learning online, for working collaboratively, and for reflecting on your own development.
- some understanding of basic ideas in physical science, for example: atoms; waves and electromagnetic radiation; planets and stars
- to be familiar with basic mathematics, algebra and trigonometry
- to be able to understand written English of the standard of a broadsheet newspaper; and write clearly and concisely, structuring short pieces so they flow coherently
- to be able to log on to the Internet, find websites and communicate by email; and create, save and retrieve documents using basic word processing skills. No previous experience of computer programming is assumed.
You’d normally prepare yourself by completing introductory OU level 1 study as part of one of our physical-science qualifications, having passed Questions in science (S111) and passed or be studying Essential mathematics 1 (MST124) – as you’ll build on your existing study skills, maths, practical and investigative skills.
Check you're ready with our self-assessed quiz.
If you’re still not sure you’re ready, talk to an adviser.
If it’s been a while since you studied science or maths, or you’re new to using a computer to access online resources, you may need to spend slightly longer on the study materials. An adviser will be able to discuss with you how much extra time you’re likely to need and whether you should consider completing an Access module or some preparatory study before beginning this module.
Physics and space is wholly online – we will provide the study materials, study guide, activities, assignments, forums, online tutorial rooms and other resources via a dedicated website. It contains significant amounts of multimedia materials including audio tracks, videos and animations, as well as interactive activities and experiments. Where possible, the materials are also available in other formats – including PDF, EPUB, interactive ebook (EPUB3), Kindle ebook and Microsoft Word – to enable you to study on the move.
You will need
You’ll need a scanner or a digital camera to produce files of diagrams or graphs you may need to draw for inclusion in your assessments.
You’ll need a simple scientific calculator of the type sold as suitable for GCSE/A-level use. The calculator on your mobile phone, tablet or computer won’t be suitable as your only calculator.
You’ll find it useful to have a notebook and pen for note taking and working out your answers to self-assessment questions and activities.
A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.
Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.
A desktop or laptop computer with either an up-to-date version of Windows or macOS.
The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.
To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).
Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.