Black Holes, Tides, and Curved Spacetime: Understanding Gravity

Course No. 1231
Professor Benjamin Schumacher, Ph.D.
Kenyon College
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Course No. 1231
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Course Overview

The force of gravity rules the universe. It governs our everyday lives on Earth and it controls the motions of the heavens above. Yet it is one of the least understood of all the forces of nature. To endeavor to understand this fundamental force is to experience anew something as simple as getting out of bed, throwing a ball, or diving into a pool; and it gives deep insight into the central organizing principle of the cosmos.

Consider these crucial aspects of gravity:

  • Gravity governs the rising and falling of tides—not only tides in the ocean, but tides in the solid rock of Earth itself.
  • Gravity molds the sun and planets into spheres, and it holds celestial objects in their orbits.
  • Gravity ignites the nuclear fires inside each star, then fights a billion-year battle to determine its fate.
  • Gravity collects stars into galaxies and causes galaxies to collide in intricate mergers that we can model with supercomputers.

Without gravity, everything would dissolve into a gas of randomly interacting atoms. It is the only truly universal force, affecting not just matter but also light, time, and, at a basic level, all information. The study of gravity helped spark the Scientific Revolution in the 17th century, and it continues to be at the forefront of physics today, as scientists rely on gravity to investigate otherwise inaccessible phenomena such as dark matter and dark energy. An understanding of gravity—what it is, how it works, and why it is the most dominant and puzzling force in the universe—is both endlessly fascinating and accessible to any curious person, regardless of his or her science education.

Black Holes, Tides, and Curved Spacetime: Understanding Gravity plunges you into this compelling subject in 24 intensively illustrated half-hour lectures, presented by Professor Benjamin Schumacher of Kenyon College. Professor Schumacher is an award-winning teacher, a prominent theoretical physicist, and a protégé of John Archibald Wheeler, the distinguished gravity theorist who first coined the term “black hole.”

No book or other comparable product exists that presents gravity in such comprehensible detail as this course, which covers the key ideas in gravity research over the past 400 years and gives you the background to understand today’s path-breaking theories in physics. Professor Schumacher even walks you through some of the fundamental equations in the field, such as Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation and Albert Einstein’s equation governing the curvature of spacetime by matter, giving you a firsthand look at the power of these mathematical expressions to explain reality—plus further opportunities to explore them with the course guidebook.

It All Started with an Apple

The course opens with Newton’s famous apple, which fell from a tree and inspired a revolutionary idea. Newton realized that the force of gravity that acts on an apple near the surface of Earth also extends to the faraway moon, keeping it in its orbit around Earth; similarly, Earth and the other planets are held in orbit around the sun by its gravity, and so on with all the stars and planets throughout the cosmos.

You learn how Newton built on the earlier work of Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler to formulate his celebrated law of universal gravitation, which governs the analysis of practically all motion—on Earth and in the heavens. In the first half of the course, you cover the many implications of this spectacular achievement. In the second half, you see how Einstein’s general theory of relativity solved long-standing mysteries of Newton’s theory and advanced an entirely new picture of gravity as a field. The simple reasoning that led Einstein to his extraordinary conclusions is thrilling to follow in Professor Schumacher’s elegant presentation.

Equally thrilling are the surprising features of gravity that you investigate, including these:

  • Gravity is unimaginably weak—a million, trillion, trillion, trillion times weaker than the electromagnetic force that attracts electrons to protons and holds atoms together. Which raises the question: How can weak gravity dominate all other forces?
  • Galileo was the first to point out that objects with different masses fall at the same rate. Neglecting air resistance, a heavier object does not fall faster than a lighter one—a principle famously demonstrated by an astronaut on the moon with a hammer and a feather.
  • The weightless condition that astronauts experience in space is not because they are beyond the reach of gravity, which is almost as strong in low Earth orbit as it is on the ground. Space travelers experience apparent zero gravity because they are in free fall.
  • According to Einstein, gravity is not actually a force at all. It is a warping of the four-dimensional fabric of the universe, called spacetime. A falling body steered only by gravity follows the most economical path in curved spacetime, called a geodesic.
  • From Black Holes to the Expanding Universe

    While gravity is deeply puzzling, it is also a phenomenon that lends itself to simple experiments that shed light on its unique properties. Professor Schumacher performs engaging in-studio demonstrations that show how scientists study gravity. Our knowledge of gravity has advanced from Galileo’s investigation of falling objects, to Henry Cavendish’s determination of the all-important gravitational constant, to Arthur Eddington’s proof that light bends as it passes near the sun, to today’s search for the almost infinitely subtle signature of gravitational waves. The lectures bring this exciting research to life with scores of informative graphics as well as stunning animations.

    This course also brings you to one of the most incredible predictions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity: black holes. Learn how Einstein’s theory describes deformed regions of spacetime that are completely cut off from the rest of the universe. Or are they? Professor Schumacher shows how physicists Stephen Hawking and Jacob Bekenstein discovered an intriguing exception to this rule about black holes that has profound implications for the universe.

    Another outcome of Einstein’s equations holds that the universe should be expanding, as Edwin Hubble discovered it is in the 1920s. More recently, astronomers have found that this expansion is accelerating due to an as-yet-unexplained cosmic antigravity known as dark energy. You explore other mysteries, including a Holy Grail of contemporary physics: the search for a theory that encompasses both gravity, which extends its reach across the cosmos, and quantum mechanics, which governs events at the smallest possible scale.

    In Black Holes, Tides, and Curved Spacetime, Professor Schumacher takes you to the very frontier of contemporary physics to explore several revolutionary theories. It’s one of the many ways that you learn how gravity research is no less exciting today as it was when Isaac Newton sat near an apple tree and had a brilliant idea.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Strangest Force
    Begin your exploration of gravity with Isaac Newton and the famous story of the apple. Why was it such a breakthrough to connect a falling apple with the faraway moon? Review the essential characteristics of gravity and learn why small asteroids and large planets have such different shapes. x
  • 2
    Free Fall and Inertia
    Review three great discoveries by the “grandfather” of gravity research, Galileo Galilei. His most famous experiment may never have happened, but his principle of inertia, law of free fall, and principle of relativity are the basis for everything that comes later in the science of gravity—including key breakthroughs by Einstein. x
  • 3
    Revolution in the Heavens
    Drawing on ideas and observations of Nicolaus Copernicus and Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler achieved a great insight about gravity by discovering three laws of planetary motion, relating to the mathematics of orbits. The cause of planetary motion, he determined, must lie in the sun. x
  • 4
    Universal Gravitation
    See how Newton was able to finish Kepler’s revolution by formulating the law of universal gravitation, which says that every object exerts an attractive force on every other object. Also explore Newton’s related discovery of the three laws of motion, which underlie the science of mechanics. x
  • 5
    The Art of Experiment
    Learn how distances in the solar system were first determined. Then chart Henry Cavendish’s historic experiment that found the value of Newton’s gravitational constant. Cavendish’s work allows almost everything in the universe to be weighed. Then see a confirmation of the equivalence principle, which says that gravitational and inertial mass are identical. x
  • 6
    Escape Velocity, Energy, and Rotation
    Begin the first of several lectures that dig deeper into Newton’s laws than Newton himself was able to go. In this lecture, apply the key concepts of energy and angular momentum to study how gravity affects motion. As an example, use simple algebra to calculate the escape velocity from Earth. x
  • 7
    Stars in Their Courses—Orbital Mechanics
    Newton was the first to realize that objects could, in theory, be sent into orbit around Earth. Explore how this works in practice, using the ideas of energy and angular momentum to study how satellites, moons, planets, and stars move through space. x
  • 8
    What Are Tides? Earth and Beyond
    Trace the origin of tides to the simple fact that gravity varies from point to point in space. This leads not just to the rise and fall of the ocean, but to the gradual slowing of Earth’s rotation, Saturn’s spectacular ring system, volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io, and many other phenomena. x
  • 9
    Nudge—Perturbations of Orbits
    For the next three lectures, study the effects of gravity on the motions of more than two bodies. Here, see how even very small orbital changes—small perturbations—are significant. Such effects have revealed the presence of unknown planets, both in our own solar system and around other stars. x
  • 10
    Resonance—Surprises in the Intricate Dance
    Resonance happens whenever a small periodic force produces a large effect on a periodic motion—for example, when you push a child on a swing. Learn how resonance due to gravitational interactions between three bodies can lead to amazing phenomena with planets, asteroids, and rings of planets. x
  • 11
    The Million-Body Problem
    Consider the problem of gravitational interactions between millions of bodies, such as the countless stars in a galaxy. Amazingly, mathematics can reveal useful information even in these complicated cases. Discover how the analysis of the motions of galaxies led to the prediction of dark matter. x
  • 12
    The Billion-Year Battle
    Explore the physics of stars, which are balls of gas in a billion-year battle between the inward pull of gravity and the outward pressure produced by nuclear fusion. Follow this story to its ultimate finish—the triumph of gravity in massive stars that end their lives as black holes. x
  • 13
    From Forces to Fields
    For the rest of the course, focus on the revolutionary view of gravitation launched by Albert Einstein. Review new ideas about fields that allowed physics to extend beyond Newtonian mechanics. Then see how Einstein modified Newton’s laws and created the special theory of relativity. x
  • 14
    The Falling Laboratory
    Einstein focused on gravity in his general theory of relativity. Hear about his “happiest thought”—the realization that a man in free fall perceives gravity as zero. This simple insight resolved a mystery going all the way back to Newton and led Einstein to the startling discovery that gravity affects light and time. x
  • 15
    Spacetime in Zero Gravity
    In an influential interpretation of relativity, Einstein’s former mathematics professor Hermann Minkowski reformulated the theory in terms of four-dimensional geometry, which he called spacetime. Learn how to plot events in this coordinate system in cases where gravity is zero. x
  • 16
    Spacetime Tells Matter How to Move
    See how gravity affects Minkowski’s spacetime geometry, discovering that motion in a gravitational field follows the straightest path in curved spacetime. The curvature in spacetime is not caused by gravity; it is gravity. This startling idea is the essence of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. x
  • 17
    Matter Tells Spacetime How to Curve
    The curvature of spacetime depends upon matter—and tidal effects. In this lecture, see how ordinary tidal effects reveal a simplified form of Einstein’s greatest discovery: the equation governing the curvature of spacetime by matter. x
  • 18
    Light in Curved Spacetime
    See how Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicts the bending of light in a gravitational field, famously confirmed in 1919 by the British scientist Arthur Eddington. Learn how this phenomenon creates natural gravitational lenses—and how the bending of light reveals invisible matter in deep space. x
  • 19
    Gravitomagnetism and Gravitational Waves
    The general theory of relativity predicts new phenomena of gravity analogous to those of electromagnetism. Discover how ultra-sensitive experiments have detected the gravitomagnetism of the Earth, and follow the search for elusive gravitational waves that travel through space. x
  • 20
    Gravity’s Horizon—Anatomy of a Black Hole
    Plunge into the subject of black holes, which are massive objects that have collapsed completely under their own gravity. Learn how black holes distort spacetime and explore the supermassive black holes that lie at the hearts of galaxies. Then ask: Are there such things as micro-black holes? x
  • 21
    Which Universe Is Ours?
    Investigate what Einstein called his “greatest mistake”—his rejection of his own theory’s prediction that spacetime should be dynamic and evolving. Chart the work of a group of scientists, including Alexander Friedman, Georges Lemaître, and Edwin Hubble, who advanced the realization that our universe is expanding from an apparent big bang. x
  • 22
    Cosmic Antigravity—Inflation and Dark Energy
    Using everything you’ve learned about gravity, investigate cosmic antigravity, starting with cosmic inflation, a phenomenon that exponentially increased the size of the universe during the big bang. Then, learn why dark matter cannot be made of ordinary protons and neutrons, and explore the recent discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, powered by a mysterious dark energy inherent in space itself. x
  • 23
    The Force of Creation
    Use a black hole to test the laws of thermodynamics, taking a deeper look at the capacity of gravity to pull matter together and increase entropy at the same time. Probe Stephen Hawking’s most surprising discovery, and then learn that the same force that pulls the apple down and steers the stars in their courses is also nature’s ultimate source of order and complexity. x
  • 24
    The Next Revolution
    Survey the greatest unsolved problem in theoretical physics: the search for a quantum theory of gravity. Examine string theory, loop quantum gravity, and also entropic gravity, which suggests a revolutionary link with thermodynamics. Close the course with a deepened appreciation for the connection between everyday features of gravity and the most exciting questions in contemporary physics and cosmology. x

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Your professor

Benjamin Schumacher

About Your Professor

Benjamin Schumacher, Ph.D.
Kenyon College
Dr. Benjamin Schumacher is Professor of Physics at Kenyon College, where he has taught for 20 years. He received his Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from The University of Texas at Austin in 1990. Professor Schumacher is the author of numerous scientific papers and two books, including Physics in Spacetime: An Introduction to Special Relativity. As one of the founders of quantum information theory, he introduced the term qubit,...
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Black Holes, Tides, and Curved Spacetime: Understanding Gravity is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 76.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and entertaining Most people buy a course from TGC because of their intellectual curiosity and interest. Yes - make it interesting. They do not buy a course like this to plan a rocket trajectory to Pluto. To do that, you bore yourself to tears for 4 years. Doc's presentation skills are exemplary considering its technical and thought-provoking content. Well done! Thank you.
Date published: 2016-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course This is an excellent course. Given the far reaching influence of gravity in the development and configuration of the universe, from my perspective this course is a must for someone who is interested in attempting to come to grips with the mysteries of the universe. Professor Schumacher provides an excellent analysis of the influence and effects of gravity on bodies in our solar system and throughout the universe. Each lecture begins with what is to be presented, is presented in an engaging way and ends with a comment that leads with what is to come. The forces of gravity are presented in a conceptual framework. Many lectures, however, include algebraic formula(s) that are helpful but all of them are not necessary for an understanding of the concepts. The conceptual presentations of gravity are well done, but this is not to say that a full understanding of the effects of gravity are easy to grasp. For example, an understanding of spacetime and curved spacetime must include the concept of four dimensions, a concept difficult for many of us. Lectures include the influence of tides as they effect our earth and as they effect bodies within galaxies as well as the gravitational influence between galaxies. Many lectures include analogies and examples as occur in the discussion of space time and zero gravity. Each lecture is interesting, informative and well done. This is not an easy course, yet an understanding of gravitational forces is vital to an attempt to understand the universe. Considering the material, Schumaker has produced an excellent if not outstanding course. For those who are new to the mysteries of the universe, the Understanding the Universe by Alex Flippenko provides an excellent introduction, Mark Whittle’s Cosmology, among others is also a good preceder to this course. Those who are interested in the universe should also be interested in How the Earth Works by Michael Wyesession.
Date published: 2016-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Combination of History & Science The course is a wonderful combination of history and science. Professor Schumacher provides an explanation of gravity by describing the scientific breakthroughs of many scientists from Galileo to Stephen Hawkings. Not only does Professor Schumacher identify these scientific breakthroughs but also explains what they mean and how they found them. It amazing that these scientific breakthroughs were achieved hundreds of years before calculators, computer, electronic test equipment, etc. Professor Schumacher also explains how the earlier breakthroughs have been used by later scientists and physicists. For example, Galileo’s principle of relativity was expanded, several hundred years later, by Albert Einstein in the Theory of Special Relativity. Professor Schumacher also provided very interesting examples about how gravity affects the normal rules that we live by causing different results. For example, the friction of air resistance is one of the forces that will cause your car to slow down on the highway. The International Space Station, which orbits in a low earth orbit, also experiences friction the air particles in the thin atmosphere at that elevation. However, instead of the friction slowing down the International Space Station, the International Space Station actually speeds up. Professor Schumacher does an excellent job of using a combination diagrams, simulations, and mechanical devices to demonstrate the principles that he is explaining. The mathematical formulas are shown as mechanisms to explain the relationship between entities such as when one entity decreases than the another entity has to increase. I highly recommend this course to obtain a better understanding of gravity which is a force that is so important for all of our lives.
Date published: 2016-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Much more than I expected I had watched one other course by Prof Schumacher (Quantum Mechanics) and greatly appreciated his style of teaching. He speaks at a comfortable pace in a completely natural manner that is just animated enough to be engaging. Physics topics are counterintuitive in many ways and it's difficult to remember all the bizarre details. Prof Schumacher seems to understand this because he reviews and repeats essential points throughout the course. He conveys his enthusiasm for the beauty of physics in every lecture. As far as content is concerned this course covered much more than I expected. I didn't realize gravity was intertwined with so many aspects of physics and it's much more complicated than I imagined. One thing I greatly appreciated was the explanation of how the universe is moving to a high entropy state despite the appearance of planets, solar systems, and galaxies which seem to indicate movement to a low entropy state. I've wondered about this since taking Sean Carrol's course on time and didn't expect to find an explanation here. I'll have to watch the whole course again to make better sense of it all but I've already learned more than I expected.
Date published: 2015-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I bought this in honor of the 100th anniversary of Einstein's greatest discovery, and have been completely satisfied. Professor Schumacher has an engaging and non pretentious style, is clearly a master of the subject, and neatly weaves together the history of the evaluation of gravity and its effects. I particularly enjoyed how he pays tribute to the discoverers since Gallileo and shows how Einstein's discovery is based on the efforts of geniuses from the past. Like many of the Great Courses professors, I constantly ask myself "where were these guys when I was in college?".
Date published: 2015-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional great course - Dr Schumacher is superb This is the second physic course presented by Dr Schumacher that I have taken ("Impossible: Physics beyond the Edge" was the first#. He was great in the first but even better in this one. He makes this extremely complex subject understandable. I was taught that a good presenter should "tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you just told them". Dr Schumacher used this approach with great effect. In this course he reviews Newtonian physics and then goes over in detail the revolutionary changes introduced by Einstein's laws of general relativity. He then goes on to discuss a wide range of phenomena including curved spacetime, gravitational tides and black holes plus a brief excursion into other modern physics theories #string and m-theory#. I was truly impressed with the excellent organization and presentation of this Great Course.
Date published: 2015-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from another brilliant physics course from TGC i love how the TGC physics courses help you unlearn most of the nonsense you were fed at school - you end up with a picture of our cosmos you can only marvel about and the realization that we still have a looong way to go in our understanding. Professor Schumacher can explain complicated stuff extremely well, even better than Sean Carroll, who is another favourite from the TGC courses. I hope to see more courses by these brilliant teachers in the future. Keep up the good work! :)
Date published: 2015-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Black Holes, Tides, and Curved Space Time The Professor makes what is a very difficult subject quite understandable. The brief descriptions of the various individuals who were so important in the development of our knowledge of this subject was greatly appreciated. His examples of how to under the complex mathematics was a definite boon. This course certainly helped me bring together the disparate pieces of information that i already knew about this subject.
Date published: 2015-03-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A physicts view of gravity Professor Schumacher's lectures were word for word of what was in the guidebook that came with the course. One could just read the guidebook and not watch the disc. The only extra thing the disc provided was some pictures of the cosmos and diagrams of descriptive models in the guidebook. His lectures were filled with physics equations to back up his points. Those who just want a basic understanding of gravity and not accustomed to heavy math equations might become put off by so many equations and not finish the course. Without the time on the equations the course would be only 6 lectures long. He also seems to have a very extreme regard for Newton though Einstein and others have corrected some of his theories. His lecture on the quantum physics of gravity was very weak and could have been omitted from the course. I wouldn't recommend this for anyone who wants just a basic understanding of gravity, especially for one who isn't acquainted with mathematical equations.
Date published: 2015-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Concepts Clearly Explained I was a physics major and can confirm that only the most basic general relativity was offered to undergraduates. There are two reasons for that. First, undergraduates don't yet have the mathematics to master general relativity. Even Einstein needed help with the math! Second, undergraduates need to cover lots of other areas of physics as well. (To ensure my education was not unusual, I confirmed this with a friend who agreed they had the same experience as a physics major at a different college. Ok, a sample space of two, but that's all I had time for.) How, then, could Schumacher teach this course? Instead of spending a great many lectures on teaching us math, he instead concentrates on concepts. And I, for one, believe he did an excellent job with those concepts. I really enjoyed this course and have a much better understanding of gravity. His explanations are clear and the drawings, graphics, and other illustrations really helped. Although I have a physics background, I think anyone could understand the concepts in this course. I have all of Schumacher's courses and can't wait for him to do more.
Date published: 2015-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent explanation of a difficult topic It's difficult for a non-physicist to wrap the mind around the concept of space-time, but the professor does an excellent job of explaining gravity in a reasonably understandable way. Combined with some other courses, such as those on Time and Quantum Mechanics, the universe is becoming a little more clear.
Date published: 2015-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Difficult, but I would recommend to anyone The concepts regarding gravity are very abstract and complex, but the professor uses analogies, concrete examples, and visual aids to make them more accessible. He starts with easily understood math and builds on that to what would otherwise be abstruse equations. He humanizes the subject by giving an historic and philosophical background. The course is well balanced in that he emphasizes both the theoretical and experimental aspects of the science. Moreover, his love of physics is infectious. Because of his enthusiasm and knowledge I would recommend this course to anyone.
Date published: 2015-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great presentation Es la mejor explicación respecto a la teoría de la relatividad que he oído. Excelente presentación y excelente conocimiento del tema. Por mucho el mejor video de los que he comprado a esta empresa.
Date published: 2015-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bravo If I could give Professor Schumacher 6 stars I would. Having read fairly widely in physics as a non-scientist before I bought and viewed this course, I brought some high expectations to it. Professor Schumacher hit the mark precisely with this course. It's a fascinating and exceedingly professional presentation. I'm convinced that if more young adults had science professors of this caliber then we'd have more scientists. Very well done, Professor.
Date published: 2014-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from During lectures he reminds the viewer of the lecture numbers which give a full explanation of the principles being referenced in the current lecture. Like a hyperlink in a pdf. Very helpful.
Date published: 2014-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2014-10-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Many ambiguities and even errors I could forgive minor errors such as "Galileo invented the telescope" and "Laplace was born an Italien" but the misleading graphics for the eotvos experiment and even the explanation of the tides reminded me of similar problems with another course I bought (quantum mechanics). It is not bad to have to go to Wikipedia to get the story straight but I am not accustomed to this from the Teaching Company.
Date published: 2014-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best - A Home Run Professor Schumacher has done a masterful job of giving all of us a thorough introduction to the many concepts presented in this course. There was just enough math to illustrate his lectures. Whenever he used a term that he wasn't sure it familiar to the audience, he carefully explained. I especially liked his out from behind the lectern approach to teaching. He handled some complex topics with an aplomb only possible with both confidence in his knowledge and his teaching style. Excellent! I recommend it. Henry
Date published: 2014-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hard Topic Made Accessible Once again, Dr. Schumacher has nailed it. He's incredibly clear, concise, articulate in a way that's inviting us to, in a sense, participate in his explanation and excitement of the topic. He repeats and reviews previously presented concepts all throughout the course such that by the end the important concepts have been driven home. Whereas he does derive (in a very simplistic way, of course) the equation of the "curvature" of spacetime, he does it in a completely logical and understandable way - he simplifies the concepts but takes it to the next level where important. His lectures have spanned Quantum Mechanics, unusual Physics, and now Spacetime. I look forward to his next course no matter what it might be. He is clearly one of the finest lecturers in The Great Courses roster and this is one of the best courses.
Date published: 2014-06-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Purchased this course to fill in the blanks left over from previous astronomy and cosmology courses purchased from the Teaching Company. The course and course content far exceeded my expectations. What Greenberg is to music, Schumaker is to physics and astronomy. Course material covered the history of gravity science from Galileo to Einstein and beyond. But beyond its historical perspective, gravitational concepts were presented which allowed an understanding of how the Universe works and some insight into the problems facing science today in marrying Newtonian gravity with Quantum theory. Complex issues were discussed clearly. Some familiarity with basic algebra is required to fully comprehend the complex issues presented. A first class course!
Date published: 2014-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gravity - an eye opener We tend to take gravity for granted ... the apple falls from the tree. How can this require 24 lectures? However, Professor Schumacher takes this basic premise, using an historical perspective, and takes the viewer on a journey of discovery into what gravity really is, and isn't. He is a great teacher, always engaging the audience, and able to put complex concepts into a framework that can be understood by the non-astrophysicist even though they are not intuitive. And, as indicated in the title, concepts including tides and black holes are integrated into this grand concept of gravity. Professor Schumacher does a wonderful job in laying out what turns out to be a very interesting, yet complex, topic.
Date published: 2014-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Opens up a difficult subject to the layperson This course offers a good historical, largely qualitative introduction to students interested in the study of gravity. The mathematics in the course are not so rigorous as to alienate viewers with a modest background in Algebra, but probably won't satisfy the student seeking a more quantitative exploration of gravity. My background is in accounting and economics and I had no trouble following the equations. In a number of places, professor Schumacher obviously employs metaphor as substitute for mathematics, which, again, may or may not appeal to one, depending on his or her background. As far as content goes, although much of the material on gravity and black holes is covered in earlier Great Courses, in my opinion, there is enough new material and fresh takes on the topics here to warrant the purchase. One thing deserves special mention. The professor did a superb job of anticipating and addressing questions which occurred to me during the lectures. One such question involved how black holes are believed to have formed at the center of galaxies. As this particular lecture wound to a close, I felt certain that he would not answer the question, but, in the end, he did. This occurred several times during each lecture and I can't applaud professor Schumacher enough for it. If one is new to the subject, perhaps professor Filippenko's excellent course on Astronomy and/or professor Carroll's equally excellent series, "Dark Matter, Dark Energy," might help to lay the groundwork for this course.
Date published: 2014-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow I was already familiar with many of the concepts in this course but the presentation was so compelling that the sum was far more than the parts. The words that come to mind, insightful, provocative, thought provoking, profound are all insufficient. What a truly wonderful synthesis of so many related topics. My only regret is that I have but 5 stars to give to this course!
Date published: 2014-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent survey Prof. Schumacher has a knack for reaching the most interesting pinnacles of the subject with a minimum of background preliminaries. It's good that he didn't attempt this class under the frequent "no equations" constraint, but also good that he kept the equations to an unintimidating level. This class is for the student looking for the meaning behind the equations, and Prof. Schumacher focusses on that meaning. I'm content to look for the mathematical details elsewhere.
Date published: 2013-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Far Out! The professor is a great teacher. His presentation on Newtonian Physics and Relativity is outstanding, however the concepts beyond those were beyond my comprehension. I will be revisiting those chapters from time to time hoping to grasp curved space time. Be prepared to use the reverse button.
Date published: 2013-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course on general relativity This course by Professor Schumacher is one of the best presentations of the topic of gravity and general relativity that I have ever encountered. It is the first treatment of the entire topic that actually explains in depth, and with mathematical details, exactly what gravity, space, spacetime, spacetime curvature and many other related facets of this subject are about. He presents the material in a very lively and engaging manner, on a technical level that enables one to understand what the gravitational phenomenon is actually all about. I commend him for this series of lectures, and would heartily recommend the course to everyone who is interested in the the physics of the dynamics of motion and time. He has finally brought me to an understanding of general relativity at a level that any person of a reasonably advanced technical skill level can enjoy. Rather than simply explain the subject in general terms, as almost all other non-university courses do, he has educated me on how gravity actually works, what Newton, Einstein and the many other scientists have done to increase our knowledge of the universe.
Date published: 2013-10-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from excellent presentation and so so content professor Schumacher presentation is always superb, but i was disappointed on the historical events that the professor presented, for example it is well known that Newton has deduced his gravity law from Kepler's third law not that Newton has invented calculus to bring the gravity law about. this fallacy is in every college course, and this is not correct, actually there is a theory that all the laws of mechanics that newton has published were deduced from kepler's laws, and particularly the gravity law was manufactured from the Kepler's third law. please refer to "explanations :styles in explanation of science" book . and the 4pi squared in the G constant that Newton proposed was never been explained by him or where he got it from, the answer is easy, it appeared naturally from the third law . please google this fact and find out yourself... (aside from reviewing this course, Newton was a very mean person and also had problems on calculus invention with Leibnitz . who invented it first? we never knew. I hope this wouldn't sound that i look down at Newton, not at all, i'm no body to review one of the best minds of the scientific community ever lived. unfortunately this is the real history that we never learned in school). but the course is enjoyable like all prof. Schumacher's courses...highly recommended.
Date published: 2013-10-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very, Very Basic. A Good First Course in Gravity. The title of this course seems to promise a cutting edge, in-depth look at some of the most exciting areas of modern astrophysics and cosmology. But, as has often been advisable with recent science and math offerings, beware of Great Courses bearing grandiose titles. Instead, we are provided with a very basic introduction to the physics of gravity. The first half nicely follows the historical trail from Copernicus to Galileo to Brahe and Kepler, and finally to the extraordinary genius of Isaac Newton. Each storyline builds on those preceding, until we arrive at Newton's three laws of motion and his insight into the nature of gravity as a universal force. The level of the presentation is so elementary, however, that if you remember anything of a high school physics course you are likely to learn little that you do not already know. The second half deals with Einstein's brilliant re-imagining of gravity as curved spacetime, and covers his special and general theories of relativity, as well as some of their consequences such as black holes, the big bang, and the search for a theory of quantum gravity. If you think this sounds like a lot to ask of twelve brief lectures which assume zero prior knowledge, you're right. The storyline here is not nearly so neat. More importantly, some of the most complex and counter-intuitive concepts in all of science are over-simplified to the point where, often, only the most general impression can be gained. Now, I want to be clear - none of this is necessarily a criticism! It is only meant to let you know what to expect. If you know nothing about Newtonian mechanics or Einstein's relativity, this would indeed be a very good place to start learning. Just be aware of the limitations. If you do have a reasonable, even if elementary, background in these areas, you would do better to go directly to one of the Great Courses' many excellent more advanced physics courses - including Professor Schumacher's own outstanding course on quantum mechanics! And Professor Schumacher is a fine professor. He is obviously highly knowledgeable, is enthusiastic about teaching his subject, has a smooth and pleasant delivery, and is able to express the ideas as well as they can be expressed, given the clear and significant constraint of aiming at an audience with no prior knowledge of the math or physics involved. A word about the little bit of mathematics included: For each physics course there are reviewers who prefer more and those who prefer less math. Obviously this will depend a lot on your background and proclivities. However, the math here (and there is truly very little of it) is generally not helpful. It almost seems included just to let you see what the equations look like, as an aesthetic experience. The verbal explanations are much more informative, and if you don't find the equations helpful, you would do well to simply ignore them. Again, to be clear - I find this topic to be incredibly fascinating and profoundly rewarding to study, both to enable an understanding of the extraordinary nature of our universe, and to provide a deep appreciation of the ability of human beings to understand it. The Great Courses, to its credit, offers a plethora of astrophysics and cosmology courses. Unless you plan to take all of them, it is worth choosing carefully.
Date published: 2013-10-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I have a Mechanical Engineering background and I am mathematically inclined - so it has a bit less math than I would have liked to see- but I found the course to be a very good one, however there are a couple of things I would like to point out: first, in explaining some of the concept there is some hand weaving and would have been explained better with equations, and the other thing is that I would loved to see more details in the summery. However, the subject is not an easy one and the professor did a great job. I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2013-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Defies Gravity This is an outstanding course. I like the focus on the topic of gravity and its relation to astronomy and cosmology. What I like even more is its connection to other advanced topics like gravitational fields, space time, gravitomagnetism, relativity and quantum mechanics. I have to confess that I watched a few of these lectures more than once. I personally do not mind the challenge of some complex topics. That is why I buy these lectures. Anyone with freshman physics should have no problem with the first half of the course (or high school for that matter). The second half of the course will engage you. Though this is a qualitative course he introduces some equations and graphs. I wish to see more of this in other physics courses. Equations and graphs were scattered throughout Professor Whittle’s course on Cosmology and people loved it. The ratings and comments said it all. I don’t care to be spoon-fed yet the animations and examples in this course were appropriate for this level of material. This course is an excellent way to learn these topics without the homework questions and exams. Professor Schumacher’s presentation is engaging and interesting. He is indeed the right man for the job. His lectures are well-organized and the topic of gravity blended in well with the cutting-edge subjects. Overall, this course is enlightening and I look forward to any future course taught by him.
Date published: 2013-09-23
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