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Physics for the 21st Century

Explore the frontiers of physics research with the scientists on the front lines in this 11-unit course in modern physics for high school physics teachers, undergraduate students, and science enthusiasts.

A multimedia course for high school physics teachers, undergraduate students, and science enthusiasts; 11 half-hour programs, online text, facilitator’s guide, and website.

Dark matter, string theory, particle accelerators, and other big topics in modern physics come together in this 11-part multimedia course for high school physics teachers, undergraduate students, and all adults who are fascinated by physics and cosmology. The course covers a broad scale, from sub-atomic particle physics, through atomic and molecular physics, to cosmology. The 11 video programs feature 22 case studies of researchers from leading research labs and universities who are breaking new ground in their fields. An extensive companion website provides background information and concepts found in a printable online textbook, interactive simulations, a course facilitator’s guide, and multiple other resources.

Course Overview

Welcome to Physics for the 21st Century: an on-line course that explores the frontiers of physics. The 11 units, accompanied by videos, interactive simulations, and a comprehensive Facilitator’s Guide, work together to present an overview of key areas of rapidly-advancing knowledge in the field, arranged from the sub-atomic scale to the cosmological. The goal is to make the frontiers of physics accessible to anyone with an inquisitive mind who wants to experience the excitement, probe the mystery, and understand the human aspects of modern physics.

While many of the research programs at the frontiers of physics might at first seem inaccessible or counter-intuitive, they are underscored by basic ideas that are familiar from classical physics: forces, conservation of mass and energy, etc. Using these ideas as a springboard, and developing the ideas of modern physics such as quantum mechanics, general relativity, and nuclear interactions, Physics for the 21st Century will take learners to the next level. This new course, produced by the Science Media Group at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and funded by Annenberg Media, will open the doors to an exciting world of ideas, to help bridge the gap between what is being taught in high school and college and what is exciting physics researchers.

Physics for the 21st Century is a self-contained distance-learning course distributed free of charge on the Web. The course is designed by Harvard Professor of Astronomy and Physics, Christopher Stubbs, with units developed by a distinguished group of physicists from Harvard and other top universities and research centers (see Scientists). The syllabus of the course is divided into 11 units, grouped into three broad areas:

  • The universe at its smallest (subatomic particle physics)
  • The universe at an everyday scale (atomic and molecular physics), and
  • The universe at its grandest (cosmology).

Course Audience

Physics for the 21st Century was designed for adult learners, including high school teachers, undergraduates, and the interested public—college graduates who were non-science majors. For teachers, the course will look at advances in physics that have occurred since they took their college physics classes. For adult learners, it will help them appreciate cutting edge advances in physics research and their potential impact on everyday life. The goal of the course is to make accessible the most important unanswered questions of our time that are being investigated in a variety of areas of contemporary physics.

The materials are designed for various uses. While this is not a curriculum for use in a high school classroom, some materials may be used to supplement existing curriculum. For example, some video segments can be used in AP high school classes with the proper introduction. Some individuals may want to learn about a single topic and study parts of one unit on their own. Teachers can use the course on their own for professional development. Or, some may join in facilitator-led groups, such as professional development workshops or in-service sessions. Information on how to use these materials to facilitate a professional development workshop is available in the PDF downloadable Facilitator’s Guide.

How to Use This Course

Although each unit of the course is composed of a video and online text chapter that work together, each component of the course—from the videos to the online text chapters, to the interactives—is also designed to stand alone. You do not need to use the materials in any particular order. If you are interested in a particular topic, you can jump in at your point of interest.

While users can start by either watching the video or reading the text, watching the video first and then reading the companion chapter is suggested. Further, reviewing the video again after reading the chapter will reinforce key concepts. The lab activities are designed to give users a practical, applied experience with the ideas explored in the units. Therefore, it is best to engage in these after watching the correlated video and reading the related chapters. For the fullest experience with all the components, use the Facilitator’s Guide to set learning goals, test your understanding of these concepts, and relate them to topics from classical mechanics.

 

Introduction

Physics for the 21st Century consists of 11 units. Each unit includes a thirty-minute video and an online textbook chapter. Additionally, there are three interactive lab activities that bring together concepts from several units into one focused activity. A Facilitator’s Guide, with discussion questions and activities, is provided in a downloadable PDF document.

The Physics for the 21st Century Web site is a home base—a place to organize the different components of the project and to locate additional information for each unit. Animations shown in the videos are available on the Web site so that users may study them in more detail. Transcripts of the video interviews with scientists are available for each unit, and a comprehensive glossary defining important terms from the online textbook chapters, with links to animations or text where these concepts are explained or indicated, are highlighted throughout the chapters and Web site.

Course Components

Physics for the 21st Century is a multimedia course consisting of 11 units. Each unit is composed of a thirty-minute video, featuring interviews with two scientists who are carrying out important research at the frontier of physics, and an online text chapter. The chapters, or units, provide core content reading that extends and deepens concepts introduced in the video case studies. The website acts as a home base to begin study, a place to organize the components of the project. It provides access to all the course components plus additional resources, which include:

  • 3 Interactive Lab Activities, each coordinated with one level of scale—subatomic, intermediate, and cosmic—reinforce key concepts discussed in this course.
  • Visuals: A Compilation of Animations and Images used in the Videos and Textbook Chapters
  • Scientist Biographies and Edited Transcripts from each of the Video Case Study Interviews
  • A Professional Development Facilitator’s Guide, a companion to the online text, is intended to be used by a facilitator running an on-site professional development course for high school physics teachers. Independent learners may also find the activities useful.
  • A Comprehensive Glossary defining important terms from the online textbook chapters

All components are accessible free of charge on the Annenberg Learner website.

Users may decide to study all 11 units, or they may be interested in a single subject. Each unit is complete in its focus, but one unit may refer to ideas and techniques presented in other units.

Content Descriptions

Users may decide to study all 11 units, or they may be interested in a single subject. Each unit is complete in its focus, but one unit may refer to ideas and techniques presented in other units. For a comprehensive look at the many ideas presented in Physics for the 21st Century, following the order, from one to eleven, is suggested.

  1. Videos
    Videos feature interviews with two scientists who are carrying out important research at the frontier of physics.
  2. Textbook Chapters
    The units provide core content reading that extends and deepens concepts introduced in the video case studies.
  3. Scientist Biographies
    Biographies of scientists include photographs and additional interview transcripts for those scientists featured in the videos.
  4. Visuals
    Animations, photographs, and other graphics from the text and videos are compiled separately by unit, title, and type.
  5. Interactive Activities
    Three activities, each coordinated with one level of scale—subatomic, intermediate, and cosmic—reinforce key concepts discussed in this course.
  6. Facilitator’s Guide
    The Facilitator’s Guide is a companion to the online text, and is intended to be used by a facilitator running an on-site professional development course for high school physics teachers. Independent learners may also find the activities useful.
  7. Glossary
    Includes important terms and concepts from the text and videos.

Course FAQs

1. Can I use the course with my high school AP physics students?

Answer: Yes. Parts of Physics for the 21st Century can be used with AP physics students as a supplement to classical physics foundation topics. The videos and video extras—used in part or as a whole—as well as many of the activities in the Facilitator’s Guide, are particularly appropriate for use in the classroom. Further, because the course looks at advances in physics, it will help students appreciate the cutting edge advances being made through physics and their potential impact on everyday life.

2. Will the course be updated when new discoveries are made?

Answer: No. But, this new course will open the doors to an exciting world of ideas, to help bridge the gap between what is being taught in high school and college and what is exciting physics researchers today.

3. Why doesn’t the course cover classical mechanics?

Answer: Using basic ideas from classical physics as a springboard, and developing the ideas of modern physics such as quantum mechanics, general relativity, and nuclear interactions, Physics for the 21st Century will take learners to the next level.

Course Credits

The Science Media Group (SMG) was founded by Dr. Matthew H. Schneps at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) to investigate new ways to use television and computer media to communicate science to the public at large. A part of the CfA’s Science Education Department, the SMG has grounded its work in state-of-the-art science education research. One of the SMG’s most recent productions was The Habitable Planet: A Systems Approach to Environmental Science—a course for high school teachers and undergraduate students in environmental science. Created in partnership with the Harvard University Center for the Environment and Annenberg Media, The Habitable Planet received the 2010 AAAS Science Prize for Online Resources in Education (SPORE). Other pioneering works created by the SMG are videos, such as A Private Universe, influential in shaping education reform worldwide; television programs, such as the PBS series Minds of Our Own, designed to alert the public to issues of science learning; and television, museum, Internet, and computer materials for children, parents, and teachers.

Project Development

Executive Director

Matthew H. Schneps

Executive Producer

Alex Griswold

Project Managers

Kelly E. Cramer
Nancy Finkelstein

Course Developer

Christopher Stubbs

Course Coordinator

Claire Cramer

Project Administrator

Linda P. Williamson

Video Production

Senior Producer | Videographer

Clive Grainger

Producer | Videographer

Tobias McElheny

Senior Editor | Producer

Steven J. Allardi

Editors | Producers

L. Neal Duffy
Keri Green

Videographer

James Day

Editors

Oren Bendavid-Val
Stuart Siegal

Online Editors

Maria Kobrina
Molly Wasser

Animator

Clayton J. Ellis

Assistant Animator

Annie Holstein

Music

Caleb Epps
Alison Plante – Treble Cove Music
Sean Snyder

Narrator

Mo Lotman

Project Advisors

John Belcher
Joan Brenner
Jack Hehn
Jesus Hernandez
Paula Heron
David Pullen
Wolfgang Rueckner

Website/Interactive Labs

Designer

Juliet Jacobson

Programmer

Don Button

Developers

Shira Fruchtman
Michelle M. Hardy

Online Text Editor

Peter Gwynne

Interactives Advisors

Raul Angulo
Lindley Winslow

Proofreader

Linda Walsh

Course Evaluation

Richard Dower
Boston QuarkNet Group

Interactives Evaluation

Jesus Hernandez
Ohilda Difo
Matt Jacques

PDF Generation

Mark Gorenstein

Production Assistant

Chandana Jasti

 

Facilitator’s Guide

Developers

Stephanie Chasteen
Noah Finkelstein

Teacher Review

Patricia Loblein

Proofreader

Amanda Heffner-Wong

Content Experts

John Bohn
Oliver deWolfe
Michael Dubson
Scott Franklin
Nils Halverson
Andrew Hamilton
Murray Holland
Seth Hornstein
John Jost
Thomas Perkins
Gavin Polhemus
Steven Pollock
Leo Radzihovsky
Colin Wallace

Series Directory

Physics for the 21st Century

Credits

Produced by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Science Media Group in association with the Harvard University Department of Physics. 2010.

View Full Credits

  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-891-2