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About This Course

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. Graduate credit is available to those who choose it. For information on earning credit, go to:

Course Overview

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:

Course Components

Physics for the 21st Century is a multimedia course consisting of 11 units. Each unit is composed of a thirty-minute video and an online text chapter. The Web site 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:

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

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.

Course Materials

Physics for the 21st Century is available beginning in the fall of 2010. You may watch the videos free on demand via broadband streaming at, with Facilitator's Guides available as downloadable pdfs on this website, or purchase DVDs and a Facilitator's Guide from the Annenberg online catalog.


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