Introduction to Chaos


This course offers an overview of the change of focus from the framework of classical physics - tremendously successful in the understanding of a static, ideal world - to a new approach involving nonlinearity, change, and chaotic behaviour. Until the middle of the twentieth century, the monumental edifice of classical science was known to be apt to tackle a static, ideal world, in sharp contrast with the complex reality governed by irreversible processes. Historically, thermodynamics, in particular the Second Law, opened the way to understanding the role played by irreversibility in the description of systems in states near-equilibrium and far-from-equilibrium. 

By the 1970s, mainly due to the advent of the availability of computers, scientists and engineers were gaining new insights into an astonishing range of real-world behaviours. A new age of chaos theory and nonlinear dynamics had arrived, where the smallest of actions might have the greatest of consequences.

This course provides an introduction to chaos theory, an overview of the revolution in scientific thinking it caused, and a fascinating range of insights into its consequences and applications.

Programme details

Course begins: 22 Jan 2024

Week 1:  Modelling reality: From the simple pendulum to the weather forecast

Week 2:  A short history of observation and measurement 

Week 3:  Determinism and predictability

Week 4:  The paradox of classical physics

Week 5:  Thermodynamics: the path to understanding systems in states near to equilibrium and states far-from-equilibrium

Week 6:  Modelling growth: The logistic and other maps

Week 7:  Chaotic behaviour: Stability, bifurcations and catastrophes

Week 8:  Fractals in mathematics and nature

Week 9:  Dissipative chaos and fractals

Week 10:  Randomness and non-linearity

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 Marina Debattista

Marina Debattista has a PhD in Physics specialising in quantum field theory and is currently interested in the popularisation of science. 

Course aims

To provide an overview of the revolution in scientific thinking caused by the development of chaos theory, and the appreciation of the need for a simple but realistic approach to describing irreversible processes and natural phenomena.

Course Objectives:

1. Understand the historic context for the emergence of the concept of chaos.

2. Understand the implications of randomness and nonlinearity in the description and explanation of real phenomena.

Teaching methods

  • Power point presentations.
  • Classwork/discussions/debates.
  • Reading scientific papers.
  • Video presentations/computer simulations.
  • White board.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

1. understand the basic concepts of chaos theory;

2. communicate this understanding using the appropriate scientific terminology;

3. assess the validity and reliability of relevant scientific information.

Assessment methods

A portfolio of short assignments, amounting to the equivalent of about 1500 words over the course.

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

This is an introductory course so no previous knowledge required. Any mathematical terms that are used will be fully explained during the course.

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)