Life, the Universe and the OU

I’ve been studying the Open University course: How The Universe Works since early September and today sent off the final exam. It’s worth 10 points – you need 360 for a degree – so isn’t a major course, but was nevertheless the most interesting thing I’ve studied since leaving college.

It started with a refresher on chemical elements, then launched straight into a description of quarks, leptons, hadrons etc. This blew my mind for a couple of days before I managed to get my head around it all! From there it went onto describing the four fundamental forces, which finished with an analysis of the sun, in which all four forces have roles. In a scientific tour-de-force, it gave an overview of how the universe began – with knowledge as up-to-date as last spring – which took you all the way from the creation of fundamental particles to the formation of the Earth from supernovae rubble. Finally it went over some of the leading-edge work of the moment, such as investigations into dark matter and energy, the search for the Higgs Boson and the ekpyrotic theory as an alternative to the big bang.

I haven’t linked much of the above as it would all come from this site, which gives a good introduction.

The course was extremely well written, managing to tread the fine line between being patronising and supplying too much information at once. Its tone was one of wonder and I always appreciate touches of humour 🙂 It helps that the writers were obviously Douglas Adams fans. The course book was very well structured, with consistently clear diagrams on good quality paper. The subject matter made me think, and while complex at times was never quite beyond my comprehension, although I think this was more to do with the clear writing than any particular skill on my part. I learnt many many interesting things which I shall do my best not to forget! It makes me wish I’d carried on studying physics 🙂

All in all, thoroughly recommended. It’s £95, and there’s no fee for signing up to the Open University. This evening I have signed up for the Exploring Mars short course. It covers many aspects of the red planet, as well as going over the Beagle 2 spacecraft, which is due to touch down on Christmas day. It’ll be cool to learn what the Beagle is capable of just in time for the big day, as then I’ll hopefully be able to understand the results once they’re available (I’m going to be soooo disappointed if it crashes on entry!).

I’m going to have to get myself a telescope, you know…