If you intend to take only one module in physics, it should be this one. It will give you an essential view of the whole subject. Physics is perhaps the most exciting intellectual adventure of our age – discoveries being made now will change your life, and learning physics will change the way you think about the world. This wide-ranging introduction to physics and its applications covers classical mechanics; thermal physics and fluids; fields, waves and electromagnetism; relativity; and quantum physics (including solids, atoms, nuclei and particles) – setting many of them in their historical context so that you can appreciate the evolution of the subject.
What you will study
Natural curiosity leads all of us to ask how the world works. Physics provides the deepest and most reliable scientific answers. This module makes physics very accessible. It will give you an appreciation of the wide relevance of physical principles to the natural and technological worlds. If your aim is to specialise, this is the most appropriate place to start, after you have completed an OU level 1 module in science or maths or an appropriate technology module.
The text is presented in eight richly illustrated books, each supported by a video sequence and a few carefully designed computer activities, provided on DVD-ROM.
Book 1 The restless universe provides a non-mathematical overview of the module by bringing together the biggest ideas from every part of physics. The video sequence and DVD activities introduce the ‘big bang’ and give you some idea of the range of objects, from quarks to quasars, which physics tries to describe.
Book 2 Describing motion deals with the various forms of motion that arise in the physical world, and the quantitative methods used to describe them. The topics include the free-fall motion of micro-gravity test vehicles, the trajectories of long-jumpers, and the orbital motion of satellites and space probes. This book also covers, at some length, some essential mathematical tools that you will need later in the module.
Book 3 Predicting motion introduces force as the cause of change in the physical world, and asks how accurately the effect that forces have on the motion of a body can be predicted. Systems as diverse as colliding galaxies and decaying nuclei are considered, and essential concepts such as energy and momentum are explored. The book also has an optional section that discusses chaos and the limits of predictability.
Book 4 Classical physics of matter is concerned with the properties of matter that can be explained more or less directly in terms of classical physics. Among the topics are the principles of flight and the operation of engines and refrigerators. The discussion introduces ideas such as temperature, heat and entropy that will take you beyond Newtonian mechanics and into the realm of thermodynamics and statistical physics.
Book 5 Static fields and potentials describes two of the fundamental interactions in nature: gravity and electromagnetism. The associated fields, potentials and energies are introduced and the relationships between them explained. You will learn how these interactions manifest themselves in different ways, from the formation of stars to the operation of thunderstorms. You will also see how they are harnessed technologically in applications such as hydroelectricity, electrical circuitry and DNA fingerprinting.
Book 6 Dynamic fields and waves concentrates on electric and magnetic fields that vary with time, including light and other electromagnetic waves. Waves in general and light waves in particular are discussed, together with optical instruments such as telescopes and microscopes, and electrical devices such as generators and transformers. This book also explores Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which gives us our most basic insight into space and time.
Book 7 Quantum physics: an introduction guides you through the profound revolution in scientific thinking that overthrew classical physics in favour of quantum physics. You will learn the basic ideas of quantum physics and see their power in predicting the behaviour of matter on the atomic scale, including the emission of light by atoms (spectra) and the operation of lasers. You will also learn why the interpretation of quantum physics is still the subject of intense debate among scientists.
Book 8 Quantum physics of matter explores the way in which quantum physics determines the properties of materials. The quantum physics of solids, for example, dictates whether they are good insulators, semiconductors, conductors or even superconductors. At a deeper level, the quantum physics of nuclei and elementary particles determines the stability of matter and hence the range of substances that came into existence through the ‘big bang’ and the evolution of stars.
This OU level 2 module offers a widely accessible route into physics, suitable for students from a range of backgrounds. However, to successfully complete the module you do need some basic scientific and mathematical skills.
You should be familiar with basic algebraic manipulation (rearranging and combining equations etc.); addition and multiplication of fractions; scientific notation; logarithms; elementary geometry and trigonometry; vectors; and with scientific uses of statistics and probability. You should also be able to plot and interpret graphs, use a scientific calculator, and understand the use of unit (dimensional) analysis. A familiarity with the elementary concepts of calculus (differentiation) is also an advantage.
An appropriate level of mathematical and scientific knowledge can be obtained by studying the OU level 1 modules, Maths for science (S151) or Essential mathematics 1 (MST124) (or the discontinued MST121), and Exploring science (S104).
It is essential that you establish whether or not your background and experience give you a sound basis on which to tackle the module, since students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully. The Science Faculty has produced a booklet Are You Ready For S207? to help you to decide whether you already have the recommended background knowledge or experience to start the module or whether you first need to study appropriate OU level 1 modules. This can be viewed as an interactive program for PC or printed as a PDF.
If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.
This is a compulsory module in our:
This is a optional module in our:
It can also count towards most of our other degrees at bachelors level, where it can help to weight your degree towards a BSc.We advise you to refer to the relevant qualification descriptions for information on the circumstances in which this module can count towards these qualifications because from time to time the structure and requirements may change.
This module can be studied as part of the OpenPlus scheme that allows you to gain your degree by studying two years part-time with the OU followed by two years full-time with one of our partner universities. For more details, please visit the OpenPlus website.
Sometimes you will not be able to count a module towards a qualification if you have already taken another module with similar content. To check any excluded combinations relating to this module, visit our excluded combination finder or check with an adviser before registering.
If you have a disability
The module utilises large numbers of coloured illustrations, video sequences and some computer activities, several of which cannot be fully described in words. It is possible to complete and pass the module without looking at the video sequences and computer activities, however students with impaired sight or colour perception may benefit from the support of a sighted assistant.
The printed study materials are available on audio in DAISY Digital Talking Book format or in comb-bound format. Transcripts are available for the audio-visual material. Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of the study material are available, however some components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical or scientific materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Other formats may be available in the future.
Module books, other printed materials, DVD-ROMs.
You will need
You will need a device with internet access to study this module as a web browser is used to access learning materials and activities. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available. This module requires the installation of software from a hardware device e.g. DVD drive or USB stick. You may need administrative privileges to install the software.
A Windows desktop or laptop running Windows 7 or later operating system is suitable for this module. This module requires installation of Microsoft Windows specific software.
Some software will not run on Mac OS X, Linux, iOS or Android devices.
A netbook, tablet, phone, Mac or Linux computer that supports one of the browsers below may be suitable for some activities. However, these devices may not be suitable for one or more activities within this module. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to another suitable desktop or laptop device that uses the Windows operating system so that you can carry out all activities on your mobile device. You will need a broadband internet connection to complete this module. Better video performance is available with higher connection speeds.
Recent versions of the following browsers for carrying out web-based activities:
Or Internet Explorer 9 and above.
Using a browser upgraded to the latest version will maximise security when accessing the internet.
Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.
To be able to talk and listen in our online discussions you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones.
Devices with small screens may make it difficult to view the material provided and carry out the activities. However, a device that has a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and also at least 768 pixels vertically should be adequate.
See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.
Teaching and assessment
Support from your tutor
You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.
Contact us if you want to know more about study with the OU before you register.
The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.
You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.
You will, however, be granted the option of submitting on paper if typesetting electronically or merging scanned images of your answers to produce an electronic TMA would take you an unacceptably long time.
The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2014 when it will be available for the last time.
As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Essential Documents