8.21 The Physics of Energy

As taught in: Fall 2008




Prof. Robert Jaffe

Prof. Washington Taylor

An energy flow diagram.
An energy flow diagram representing the 2004 U.S. energy flow. (Image courtesy of Energy Information Administration.)

Course Description

This course is designed to give you the scientific understanding you need to answer questions like:
  • How much energy can we really get from wind?
  • How does a solar photovoltaic work?
  • What is an OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Converter) and how does it work?
  • What is the physics behind global warming?
  • What makes engines efficient?
  • How does a nuclear reactor work, and what are the realistic hazards?

The course is designed for MIT sophomores, juniors, and seniors who want to understand the fundamental laws and physical processes that govern the sources, extraction, transmission, storage, degradation, and end uses of energy.

Special note about this course: The Physics of Energy is a new subject at MIT, offered for the first time in the Fall of 2008. The materials for the course, as such, are not yet ready for wider distribution. However, given the relevance of this topic worldwide, OCW is presenting a basic version of the course now to provide insight into how this subject is being developed at MIT. We expect to add more content after it is taught again in the Fall of 2009.

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