August 6, 2006

The 6 Best Ways to Learn Physics…for Free


I was listening to an excellent audiobook yesterday called The Wisdom of Huston Smith in which Huston relates a story about a visiting professor (can’t recall the name right now) who came and lectured to the physics department at the university he was teaching at and spent the entire time presenting on philosophy rather than physics. He was asked why he didn’t talk about physics with the physics department and his answer was interesting.

I don’t draw any distinctions between physics and philosophy.

This has gotten me thinking that I need to study physics a bit more. So to help me (and you!) get started I’ve compiled six excellent ways to learn physics. The best part…all of these resources are free. Enjoy!

1. The PBS Series The Elegant Universe – I watched this one a while ago on Netflix and it’s really cool. What’s even cooler is that you can watch the entire three hours of it at the PBS website for free. The Elegant Universe covers a wide range of topics and goes particularly in-depth on string theory. It’s very entertaining and you’ll learn a ton by watching this.

2. Imagining the Tenth Dimension – A buddy pointed me to this recently and it’s a great introduction to the string theory notion of ten spatial dimensions. I was introduced to this in the Elegant Universe and while I’m getting a better handle on it I’m still a little lost when we get outside of the three/four dimensions that most people readily understand. This flash-based presentation is very well-done and a great complement to a watching of The Elegant Universe.

3. Free Physics Video Lectures – In our free directory we’ve compiled over two dozen free audio and video physics lectures. Here are some of the highlights:

Richard Feynman lectures from the Vega Science Trust – Four video lectures from world-renowned physicist Richard P. Feynman
Einstein’s Miraculous Year – Two free lectures from The Teaching Company that celebrate the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s “Miracle Year.”
Parts of a Whole – A free lecture with physicist David Bohm who addressed quantum physics from a spiritual perspective.

You can find more lectures like this (including lectures from MIT and the Lannan Foundation) and in the Physics subcategory of our free audio and video directory.

4. Motion Mountain – An amazing free, full-length, professional-quality physics textbook…how cool is that? If you’d rather not part with the $100+ that most physics textbooks cost give this one a shot. This is the real deal too at over 1,300 pages! (Thanks to Wynn @ The Stingy Scholar blog for pointing us to this.)

5. Free Physics Podcasts – Another great way to learn physics is to listen to some of the excellent physics podcasts that are out there. Berkeley has two worth checking out, Descriptive Introduction to Physics and Introductory Physics. NOVA has an “e = mc2” podcast that is also worth checking out (part of their well-done Einstein’s Big Idea section).

6. Random Fun Stuff – I’ll admit it…sometimes a subject like physics can get a little dry. If you’d like to spice it up a bit check out these fun ways to learn physics below:

The Britney Spears Guide to Semiconductor Physics

Super Mario Physics
Interactive Physics Simulations

OK, that should be enough to make your brain hurt for a while.