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Sioux Falls Scientists endorse The Physics of History for showing us
what role physics has played in our history and what our
knowledge of physics tells about our history.

The Physics of History
Lectures by Professor David J. Helfand

The Physics of History (2009) - 24 lectures, 12 hours
The Physics of History at TheGreatCourses.com

In April 1991, two Alpine hikers stumbled across the well-preserved body of a Copper Age hunter half-buried in a glacier on the border between Italy and Austria. This accidental discovery, nicknamed Ötzi the Iceman, possessed a trove of invaluable information about the origins of prehistoric people. Yet while standard archaeological techniques revealed many interesting aspects of Ötzi's life - including his diet and his dress - it was only through the use of physics that more microscopic clues were uncovered; clues that, decades earlier, might have remained hidden. The strontium-to-lead ratios in Ötzi's teeth matched the ratios found in the Eisack Valley, northeast of present-day Bolzano, Italy, suggesting that was where he spent his childhood. Varying ratios of oxygen 18 to oxygen 16 in Ötzi's bones indicated that he spent much of his later life at higher altitudes. And the presence of excess copper and arsenic in Ötzi's hair suggested that he played an active role in copper smelting.

This is but one of the many examples of how the laws of physics can give us intimate details about history - details that are impossible to find through mere observation. In fact, the history of the entire universe and all it contains is written in the particular arrangements of the fundamental particles that constitute all matter. With recent developments in technology, scientists can now use everything they know about atoms - their origins, structure, and behavior - to uncover the truth about historical mysteries in archaeology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, and even art.

With this unprecedented access to times far earlier than those recorded by historians, scientists can now explore the rise and fall of preliterate societies, the history of the Earth's changing climate, and even the origins of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. Using this knowledge, they can finally develop a comprehensive, stable timeline that encompasses all of history, from the beginning of time to today - all by "reading" the history of a bone, a piece of wood, the mortar in a building, a neutrino from the sun, and more.

The Physics of History, taught by award-winning Professor David J. Helfand of Columbia University, gives you the background to understand how scientists know what they do about the past. These 24 richly illustrated lectures cover an astonishing range of cases in which physics has helped to redefine history - in astronomy, archaeology, geology, climatology, art history, and other fields.

Professor David J. Helfand is Professor of Astronomy at Columbia University, where he is department chair and codirector of the Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory. He attended Amherst College and earned an M.S. in Physics and Ph.D. in Astronomy at the University of Massachusetts. He primarily teaches undergraduate courses for nonscience majors and received Columbia's 2001 Presidential Teaching Award and the 2002 Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates.

24 Lectures - 30 minutes each

1: The Vast Reaches of Time and Space 13: A Bad Day in June - Death of the Dinosaurs
2: Fundamentally, What's the World Made Of? 14: The Origin and Early History of Life
3: Energy in the Atomic World 15: The History of Earth's Atmosphere
4: The Atomic Basis of the Senses 16: The Age of the Solar System
5: Radioactivity - Nature's Imperturbable Clock 17: What Happened before the Sun Was Born?
6: From Detecting Forgeries to the First Art 18: Atoms Are Star Stuff - Cooking Up Carbon
7: Watching Plaster Dry - And Dating It 19: The Lives of Big Stars - Cooking Up Big Atoms
8: We Are What We Eat - The History of Diet 20: Relativity - Space and Time Become Spacetime
9: A Plant Is What It Eats - Tracing Agriculture 21: (Almost) Everything Is Relative
10: Tree Rings - Seasons of the Past 12,000 Years 22: Matter Vanishes; Light Speed Is Breached?
11: Ice Cores - Climate Records for 800 Millennia 23: The Limits of Vision - 13.7 Billion Years Ago
12: Ocean Sediments Reveal 5 Million Years 24: The First Few Minutes - Where It All Began


The Physics of History
Lectures by Professor David J. Helfand

Sioux Falls Scientists endorse The Physics of History for showing us
what role physics has played in our history and what our
knowledge of physics tells about our history.