A police officer places a GPS device on a suspected drug dealer’s car to trace his whereabouts and build a case against him. A popular retail store uses predictive analytics to send pregnancy-related advertising to a teenager who has yet to tell her parents about her condition. A Kentucky man shoots down a neighbor’s drone that is flying over his private property.
Many of us board a plane without understanding what a truly extraordinary experience flight is: suspended 30,000 feet or more in the air, propelled to our destination at close to the speed of sound, protected from extreme cold and low pressure by the thin skin of the aircraft. We realize it’s complicated, but few of us know how it works. Even more remarkable is space flight, the “rocket science” that we use as a benchmark of difficulty or complexity.
Energy is, without a doubt, the very foundation of the universe. It’s the engine that powers life and fuels the evolution of human civilization.
Trying to understand our human origins has always been a fundamental part of who we are. One of the core things we want to know is how we came to be. Thousands of years ago, human civilizations developed elaborate stories to explain the origins of humans. But today, with the help of dramatic archaeological discoveries and groundbreaking advancements in technology and scientific understanding, we are closer than ever before to learning the true story. In recent decades, paleoanthropology has exploded, bringing us closer than ever before to making sense of this controversial subject and providing us with a richer understanding of our origins. It’s also sparked continued debate among the greatest minds in the field and prompted anthropologists to revise, update, and even, in some cases, overturn ideas and theories about key issues in human evolution.
One day in 1900, German physicist Max Planck told his son that he had made a breakthrough as important as Isaac Newton’s discovery of the workings of the universe. Planck had reached the surprising conclusion that light behaves as if it is packaged in discrete amounts, or quanta, a seemingly simple observation that would lead to a powerful new field of physics called quantum mechanics.
Physics is the fundamental science. It explains how the universe behaves at every scale, from the subatomic to the extragalactic. It describes the most basic objects and forces and how they interact. Its laws tell us how the planets move, where light comes from, what keeps birds aloft, why a magnet attracts and also repels, and when a falling object will hit the ground, and it gives answers to countless other questions about how the world works.
In recent years, cutting-edge telescopes, satellite imaging, and unmanned spacecraft have led to a fascinating series of discoveries that have changed our picture of the Sun and the family of objects that orbit it—including Earth. This new perspective has grown out of many intriguing findings such as these:
Charles Darwin’s theory of organic evolution—the idea that life on earth is the product of purely natural causes, not the hand of God—set off shock waves that continue to reverberate through Western society, and especially the United States. What makes evolution such a profoundly provocative concept, so convincing to most scientists, yet so socially and politically divisive? The Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy is an examination of the varied elements that so often make this science the object of strong sentiments and heated debate.
This visually rich course is designed to provide a nontechnical description of modern astronomy, including the structure and evolution of planets, stars, galaxies, and the Universe as a whole. It includes almost all of the material in my first two astronomy courses for The Teaching Company, produced in 1998 and 2003, but with a large number of new images, diagrams, and animations. The discoveries reported in the 2003 course are integrated throughout these new lectures, and more recent findings (through mid-2006) are included, as well. Much has happened in astronomy during the past few years; we will discuss the most exciting and important advances.
Quantum mechanics has a reputation for being so complex that the word “quantum” has become a popular label for anything mystical or unfathomable. In fact, quantum mechanics is one of the most successful theories of reality yet discovered, explaining everything from the stability of atoms to the glow of neon lights, from the flow of electricity in metals to the workings of the human eye.
We’re surrounded by inventions. Consider the clocks, appliances, and transportation that coordinate our days. Or the televisions, cell phones, and social media that connect us to each other. And the shopping malls, department stores, and catalogs that define the modern retailing experience.
Recent years have seen the introduction of concepts from the new and exciting field of complexity science that have captivated the attention of economists, sociologists, engineers, businesspeople, and many others.