The Mechanical Universe

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The Mechanical Universe
Created by Dr. David Goodstein
Starring Dr. David Goodstein
Narrated by Aaron Fletcher
Country of origin  United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 52
Location(s) Pasadena, California
Original network PBS
Original release 1985 – 1986
External links

The Mechanical Universe... And Beyond, is a 52-part telecourse filmed at the California Institute of Technology, and produced by Caltech and INTELECOM Intelligent Telecommunications (a non-profit consortium of California community colleges). The series introduces university level physics, covering topics from Copernicus to quantum mechanics.

Produced starting in 1985, the videos make heavy use of historical dramatizations and visual aids to explain physics concepts. The latter were state of the art at the time, incorporating almost 8 hours of computer animation created by computer graphics pioneer Jim Blinn. Each episode opens and closes with a "phantom" lecture by Caltech professor David Goodstein.[further explanation needed] After more than a quarter century, the series is still often used as a supplemental teaching aid, for its clear explanation of fundamental concepts such as special relativity.[1]

The Mechanical Universe lectures are actual freshman physics lectures from Physics 1a and 1b courses at the California Institute of Technology. The room seen in the videos is the Bridge lecture hall.

The series can be purchased, or viewed by streaming from the Annenberg website, or can be viewed on other video streaming sites such as YouTube and Google Video.

List of episodes[edit]

The first 26 episodes are titled The Mechanical Universe on the show itself.[2] The last 26, episodes 27 through 52. are titled The Mechanical Universe ...and Beyond.[3]

The Mechanical Universe[edit]

# # Title Directed by Written by
1 1 "Introduction" Peter F. Buffa Jack Arnold
Brief overview of the material in the first 26 episodes.
2 2 "The Law of Falling Bodies" Peter F. Buffa Peter F. Buffa
How falling bodies behave and an introduction to the derivative.
3 3 "Derivatives" Mark Rothschild Pamela Kleibrink
Review of the mathematical function the derivative.
4 4 "Inertia" Peter F. Buffa Albert Abrams
How Galileo used the law of inertia to answer questions about the stars.
5 5 "Vectors" Peter F. Buffa Deane Rink
Vectors not only have a magnitude but also a direction.
6 6 "Newton's Laws" Mark Rothschild Ronald J. Casden
Newton's first, second and third laws.
7 7 "Integration" Mark Rothschild Seth Hill & Tom M. Apostol
Integration and differentiation are the inverse of each other.
8 8 "The Apple and the Moon" Peter F. Buffa Don Bane
An apple falls and the moon orbits the earth because of gravity.
9 9 "Moving in Circles" Mark Rothschild Deane Rink
Uniform circular motion has both constant velocity and constant acceleration.
10 10 "Fundamental Forces" Mark Rothschild Don Bane
Gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces.
11 11 "Gravity, Electricity, Magnetism" Peter F. Buffa Don Bane
How electricity and magnetism relate to the speed of light.
12 12 "The Millikan Experiment" Mark Rothschild Albert Abrams
Millikan's demonstration to accurately measure the charge of an electron.
13 13 "Conservation of Energy" Mark Rothschild Seth Hill
Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed.
14 14 "Potential Energy" Mark Rothschild Don Bane
Systems that are stable are at their lowest potential energy.
15 15 "Conservation of Momentum" Peter Robinson Jack George Arnold
Momentum is conserved when two or more bodies interact.
16 16 "Harmonic Motion" Mark Rothschild Ronald J. Casden
Disturbing stable systems will produce simple harmonic motion.
17 17 "Resonance" Peter F. Buffa Ronald J. Casden
Resonance is produced when the frequency of a disturbing force comes close to the natural harmonic frequency of a system.
18 18 "Waves" Peter F. Buffa Ronald J. Casden
Waves are a series of disturbances that propagate through solids, liquids and gases.
19 19 "Angular Momentum" Peter F. Buffa Jack George Arnold & David L. Goodstein
Objects traveling in circles have angular momentum.
20 20 "Torques and Gyroscopes" Mark Rothschild Jack George Arnold & David L. Goodstein
A force acting on a spinning object can cause it to precess.
21 21 "Kepler's Three Laws" Peter F. Buffa Seth Hill
Kepler discovered the orbits of the planets are ellipses.
22 22 "The Kepler Problem" Peter F. Buffa Seth Hill
Newton used Kepler's laws to create his own laws of planetary motion.
23 23 "Energy and Eccentricity" Peter F. Buffa Seth Hill
The conservation of energy and angular momentum help determine how eccentric an orbit will be.
24 24 "Navigating in Space" Peter F. Buffa Don Bane
The laws that describe planetary motion are used to navigate in space.
25 25 "Kepler to Einstein" Peter F. Buffa Don Bane & David L. Goodstein & Jack George Arnold
Einstein used Newton's and Kepler's laws to work on his theory of relativity.
26 26 "Harmony of the Spheres" Peter F. Buffa David L. Goodstein & Jack George Arnold
Harmonizing music to the orbits of the planets.

The Mechanical Universe ...and Beyond[edit]

27. Beyond the Mechanical Universe
The world of electricity and magnetism, and 20th-century discoveries of relativity and quantum mechanics.

28. Static Electricity
Eighteenth-century "electricians" knew how to spark the interest of an audience with the principles of static electricity.

29. The Electric Field
Faraday's vision of lines of constant force in space laid the foundation for the modern force field theory.

30. Capacitance and Potential
Franklin proposes a successful theory of the Leyden jar and invents the parallel plate capacitor.

31. Voltage, Energy, and Force
When is electricity dangerous or benign, spectacular or useful?

32. The Electric Battery
Volta invents the electric battery using the chemical properties of different metals.

33. Electric Circuits
The work of Wheatstone, Ohm, and Kirchhoff leads to the design and analysis of how current flows.

34. Magnetism
Gilbert discovered that the earth behaves like a giant magnet. Modern scientists have learned even more.

35. The Magnetic Field
The law of Biot and Savart, the force between electric currents, and Ampère's law.

36. Vector Fields and Hydrodynamics
Force fields have definite properties of their own suitable for scientific study.

37. Electromagnetic Induction
The discovery of electromagnetic induction in 1831 creates an important technological breakthrough in the generation of electric power.

38. Alternating Currents
Electromagnetic induction makes it easy to generate alternating current while transformers make it practical to distribute it over long distances.

39. Maxwell's Equations
Maxwell discovers that displacement current produces electromagnetic waves or light.

40. Optics
Many properties of light are properties of waves, including reflection, refraction, and diffraction.

41. The Michelson–Morley experiment
In 1887, an exquisitely designed measurement of the Earth's motion through the ether results in the most brilliant failure in scientific history.

42. The Lorentz Transformation
If the speed of light is to be the same for all observers, then the length of a meter stick, or the rate of a ticking clock, depends on who measures it.

43. Velocity and Time
Einstein is motivated to perfect the central ideas of physics, resulting in a new understanding of the meaning of space and time.

44. Energy, Momentum, and Mass
The new meaning of space and time make it necessary to formulate a new mechanics.

45. Temperature and the Gas Law
Hot discoveries about the behavior of gases make the connection between temperature and heat.

46. The Engine of Nature
The Carnot engine, part one, beginning with simple steam engines.

47. Entropy
The Carnot engine, part two, with profound implications for the behavior of matter and the flow of time through the universe.

48. Low Temperatures
With the quest for low temperatures came the discovery that all elements can exist in each of the basic states of matter.

49. The Atom
A history of the atom, from the ancient Greeks to the early 20th century, and a new challenge for the world of physics.

50. Particles and Waves
Evidence that light can sometimes act like a particle leads to quantum mechanics, the new physics.

51. Atoms to Quarks
Electron waves attracted to the nucleus of an atom help account for the periodic table of the elements and ultimately lead to the search for quarks.

52. The Quantum Mechanical Universe
A last look at where we've been and a peek into the future.


Annenberg/CPB provided the funding for the production of The Mechanical Universe.[4] The show was one of the first twelve projects funded by the initial $90 million pledge the Annenberg Foundation gave to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in the early 1980s.[5]

Funding to broadcast the show came from the following.


  1. ^ Stephen R. Ellis; Mary K. Kaiser; Arthur C. Grunwald (1991). Pictorial Communication in Virtual and Real Environments. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-7484-0008-9. 
  2. ^ "Introduction". The Mechanical Universe. Season 1. Episode 1. PBS. 
  3. ^ "Resource: The Mechanical Universe...and Beyond". Annenberg Media. 2009. Retrieved 28 May 2010. 
  4. ^ "The Mechanical Universe". California Institute of Technology. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  5. ^ "About the Foundation - A Strong History of Grantmaking". The Annenberg Foundation. 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

  • R.P. Olenick, T.M. Apostol, and D.L. Goodstein (1986). The Mechanical Universe: Introduction to Mechanics and Heat (Cambridge University Press).
  • R.P. Olenick, T.M. Apostol, and D.L. Goodstein (1986). Beyond the Mechanical Universe: From Electricity to Modern Physics (Cambridge University Press). ISBN 0-521-30430-X

External links[edit]