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Merry Christmas

December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!

I didn’t even get you guys a gift.  Now I feel bad.  You know what?  I’ll give you the best gift of all — free physics lectures from Stanford!

Dr. Leonard Susskind is one of the leading theoretical physicists in the world and he wants to share that passion with the world.  In order to do so, he’s been working for years on a course set which he’s calling The Theoretical Minimum.  It’s a series of filmed lectures which are posted online, for free, along with books which you can get off of Amazon.com.  The first book is already out, called The Theoretical Minimum: What You need To Start Doing Physics.  The next book:  Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum comes out in February 2014.   I’m assuming more books are one the way, eventually leading to a nice self-study course from basic physics up to the leading edges of human knowledge.

In the books’ self description, the authors focus around the difficult philosophical ideas which most textbooks shy away from.  That’s right up my alley!

You can find all the courses in iTunes U (under Stanford), on Stanford’s Youtube page, or from this website link.

The courses are as follows:  Classical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics, Advanced Quantum Mechanics, Special Relativity, General Relativity, Cosmology, Statistical Mechanics, Quantum Entanglement [3 courses], Basic Particle Physics, and The Standard Model.

I shouldn’t leave you all with the impression that this series covers all of physics.  There’s not much classical E&M there, no thermodynamics, or no plasma physics, to name a few.  No optics.  No computational physics.  He only really covers a small subset of mechanics, but eh.  It’s a welcome set of courses to add online.

There are many other courses which have been coming online in recent years.  Dr. Lewin of MIT offers a wonderful E&M course on MIT Opencourseware, so I’d recommend that.  They also offer a basic mechanics course, if I remember right.  The Khan Academy offers a basic physics course, but if you ask me, it’s way too basic.  They need to put a lot more work into it.  Khan Academy excels in mathematics, up to maybe an undergraduate engineer level.  They cover basic math up to calculus, differential qquations, and linear algebra.  Beyond that, I don’t know of any good online courses.  At my university for example, we have courses like Theoretical Physics and Mathematical Physics, which keep going, teaching us more advanced mathematics, like partial differential equations, tensors, complex variable analysis, among other things.  I don’t know of any website which has that online yet.  To my knowledge there isn’t any particle physics or quantum field theory lectures online either.  I see little scattered videos here and there on Youtube, but nothing that goes very deep.

I love the internet.   Finally, lectures on advanced physics and quantum field theory are making their way online!  My university doesn’t offer many courses on cosmology, general relativity, or particle physics.  We mainly focus around solid state physics, so having access to these materials means a lot to me.  It’s nice having someone to ease you into all of it.

The courses themselves are self-contained (he tried to make them that way at least), but if you’re going to study the material, you’re best watching the lectures in the order I listed them.  Enjoy!

I’ve been watching them myself, and I really enjoy how knowledgeable Dr. Susskind is.  He’s not caught up in the detailed mathematics, just chugging along.  He focuses on the central ideas, starting really simple and working his way to more complex examples.  Then he expects you to pursue the subject further on your own if you’re deeply interested in it all.  As he said, the purpose of the course is to give you the theoretical minimum.   They are Do-It-Yourself physics courses.  Learn at your own pace.  It’s awesome stuff.

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