Mechanics: Motion, Forces, Energy and Gravity, from Particles to Planets

Mechanics is the basis of much of physics, engineering and other technological disciplines. It begins by quantifying motion, and then explaining it in terms of forces, energy, momentum and forces including gravity. This allows us to analyse the operation of many familiar phenomena around us, but also the mechanics of planets, stars and galaxies.

About The Course

Most of the phenomena in the world around you are, at the fundamental level, based on physics, and much of physics is based on mechanics. You will understand with greater depth many of the wonders around you in everyday life, in technology, in the universe at large. That, in turn, will lead you to look further and deeper into the world and the universe around you. Meanwhile, we think you'll have some fun, too.

This course uses rich multimedia tutorials to present the material: film clips of key experiments, animations and worked example problems, all with a friendly narrator. You'll then do a range of interesting problems to practise what you've learnt, and for assessment. You will use your ingenuity to come up with two experimental investigations using simple, everyday materials (plus a computer). 

Frequently Asked Questions


  • What resources will I need for this class? You'll need a computer with an internet connection. Pen and paper for drawing diagrams and doing calculations. Either a calculator or the calculator feature on your computer. For the experimental investigations, some small items that you can probably find around you. You may wish to use a movie camera, such as those found in many computers or phones, and movie editing software such as can be downloaded for free from the internet, but this is optional. You will need curiosity and enthusiasm. Ideally, you'll have the time and the enthusiasm to join the community on the bulletin boards.
  • How does this course compare with a high school or university physics course? It's at the level of a good, senior high school course. It's also at the level of what might be called a 'fundamentals' course at university: a course designed for students who have never done physics before and who don't have a good background in mathematics. Of course, mechanics is only one part of physics. A first year university course would usually include, over two semesters, introductions to mechanics, thermal physics, waves and sound, electricity and magnetism, optics and a little introduction to quantum physics and relativity.
  • Can I do it without calculus? Absolutely, We do provide a tool-kit resource on calculus for those who would like to see a more elegant version of a few of the derivations. However, you do not need calculus for this course.
  • Does it have relativity in it? There's a little bit: what we call Galilean relativity. None of Einstein's relativity. However, if you're interested, we do provide a simple introduction to Einstein's special theory of relativity on Physclips.
  • What about the other topics I need in high school physics? High school physics usually starts with mechanics. Once you have used some of our tool-kit resources to do problems the way a physicist does, you'll be better prepared for other topics. Further, we provide other rich-media learning materials for high school physics on our site Physclips.
  • Will it prepare me for a university first year course? Definitely, First year physics at university usually starts with mechanics. It will be studied at a deeper level than this course (how much deeper depends on which level you take). This course will get you off to a flying start. 
  • Will I be able to break bricks on my chest and climb walls like the man in the teaser video? We recommend that you don't try this. If you use this course as an introduction to studying engineering, however, you may end up in a situation where people's lives depend on your understanding of mechanics.
  • Who else will be doing this course? Good question! We don't know yet, but we expect to have a lot of good senior high school students taking it as university preparation, and also some university students taking it to help them with on-campus courses in which they are also enrolled.
  • What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class? Most of the phenomena in the world around you are, at the fundamental level, based on physics, and much of physics is based on mechanics. You will understand with greater depth many of the wonders around you in everyday life, in technology, in the universe at large. That, in turn, will lead you to look further and deeper into the world and the universe around you. Meanwhile, we think you'll have some fun, too.



Recommended Background

You will need some simple high-school mathematics: arithmetic, a little algebra, quadratic equations, the sine, cos and tan functions from trigonometry. The course does not use calculus. However, we do provide a study aid introducing the calculus that would accompany this course if it were taught in a university.