A Brief History of Physics from Galileo to the 20th Century and Beyond


Physics is all around us from understanding GPS systems to remote controlled television sets. However, the development of Physics was incremental with many varied and inspirational figures being responsible for great leaps and often blunders in Physics.

The course will capture the essence of some of these great figures and will highlight reasons for their paths travelling through Physics. Commencing with Galileo we then arrive swiftly at Newton and his mechanics and gravity only then to realise that his work along with that of Maxwell was insufficient to comprehend the world. Thus, we dive headfirst into the Quantum world and Relativity with the view of resolving these issues.

Programme details

Courses starts: 25 Apr 2024

Week 1: An introduction to the Science of Galileo

Week 2: Halley, Kepler and Newton and their Physics

Week 3: Isaac Newton, his Mechanics and his Gravity

Week 4:  Boltzmann, Maxwell and other giants of classical Physics

Week 5: Coulomb, Faraday, Maxwell: Electricity and Magnetism 

Week 6: Atomic theory, the periodic table, Mendeleev, Dalton, and Lavoisier

Week 7: Problems in Physics: the wave-particle duality and Einstein

Week 8: Max Planck, Neils Bohr, Albert Einstein and Quantum Physics

Week 9: Einstein and relativity

Week 10: Particles and more problems in Physics

Digital Certification

To complete the course and receive a certificate, you will be required to attend at least 80% of the classes on the course and pass your final assignment. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so.


Description Costs
Course Fee £257.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Vasos Pavlika

Dr Vasos Pavlika is Associate Professor (Education) at University College London, he also teaches Mathematics and Statistics at the LSE (University of London), as well as Online at: SOAS, University of London (Mathematical Economics), Goldsmiths College (Computing and Data Science), University of London and the Open University (Applied Mathematics). He has been a lecturer in the Department for Continuing Education, Oxford since 2004. Vasos is the Director of Studies for the Physical Sciences in the Department for Continuing Education, Oxford as well a tutor in the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Cambridge.

Course aims

  • To introduce many of the Giants of Physics from Galileo to Feynman.
  • To discuss the histories and lives of many of the so-called Giants of Physics.
  • To elucidate much of classical Physics and to discuss the two great theories of the 20th century, namely Relativity and Quantum Physics. 

Course objectives:

  • To demonstrate that Physics is an iterative science.
  • To discuss the lives of many of the great Physicists of the past.
  • To develop an understanding of Newtonian as well as non-Newtonian Physics.

Teaching methods

The lectures will be a mixture of PowerPoint presentations and board work. The presentations will be made available to the students.

Learning outcomes

  • The course will allow students to learn about classical and non-classical Physics.
  • The course will allow students to learn of the weird and wonderful world of Quantum Mechanics without too much emphasis on Mathematics.
  • The course will introduce students to the postulates and theory of Relativity.

Assessment methods

The students can:


provide their solutions to the weekly set exercises (9 in total from week 2-10 inclusive)


submit solutions to the Portfolio exercise set in week 5.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)