About this Course
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Beginner Level

Approx. 35 hours to complete

Suggested: 8 weeks of study; 5-7 hours/week...


Subtitles: English

100% online

Start instantly and learn at your own schedule.

Flexible deadlines

Reset deadlines in accordance to your schedule.

Beginner Level

Approx. 35 hours to complete

Suggested: 8 weeks of study; 5-7 hours/week...


Subtitles: English

Syllabus - What you will learn from this course

1 hour to complete

Course Orientation

You will become familiar with the course, your classmates, and our learning environment. The orientation will also help you obtain the technical skills required for the course.

1 video (Total 3 min), 4 readings, 2 quizzes
4 readings
About the Discussion Forums10m
Updating Your Profile10m
Social Media10m
2 practice exercises
Orientation Quiz5m
Demographics Survey5m
5 hours to complete

Week 1: How It All Starts and Ends

The course starts by looking at the basic principles of energy sources at the level of the atoms and molecules. This shows how everything from wind energy to nuclear energy share the same basic concept. We then go on to blow some stuff up and explain the statistics of what forms of energy are used around the world – who has them, who uses them, and who produces them. “How Things Work” segments start with a bang (fireworks) and then get both louder (bell towers) and softer (silencers).

13 videos (Total 120 min), 5 quizzes
13 videos
Nothing New under the Sun6m
How Things Work: Fireworks15m
We Are All Star Material9m
Disappearing Mass2m
How Things Work: Big Bells and Bad Beats10m
Measure Up8m
Energy Around the World9m
Where Does It Come From?8m
How Is It Used?14m
How Things Work: Voice Change and Sound Proofing - What Is Sound?5m
How Things Work: Voice Change and Sound Proofing – Getting Rid of Sound7m
How Things Work: Voice Change and Sound Proofing – Do Silencers Really Work15m
4 practice exercises
Topic 1 Practice Quiz15m
Topic 2 Practice Quiz15m
Topic 3 Practice Quiz15m
Week 1 Quiz30m
6 hours to complete

Week 2: Getting and Using the Power

Here we dig into the two most frequent uses of energy and how to make it into useful devices, namely, the engines in cars and making electricity. How exactly does an engine work, and are there ways to make them better? How do they tie into the basic physics from the first week? We also find out what is so “smart” about the electric grid and how it is changing over time. “How Things Work” features airports, hybrid cars, and really flashy electricity (i.e., lightning!).

14 videos (Total 154 min), 5 quizzes
14 videos
What Is Temperature?16m
Fun and Facts with Liquid Nitrogen3m
How Things Work: Airport behind the Scenes10m
Energy from Chemistry?9m
Heat Engines7m
How Things Work: The Engine in Your Car…17m
Diesel Is Different7m
Octane and Other Numbers at the Pump8m
Hybrid Cars?14m
Electricity: What and How10m
Electricity: Where and When11m
The Smart Grid8m
How Things Work: Shock and Awe-some Lightning17m
4 practice exercises
Topic 4 Practice Quiz15m
Topic 5 Practice Quiz15m
Topic 6 Practice Quiz15m
Week 2 Quiz30m
7 hours to complete

Week 3: Why Coal Is Dirty

Fossil fuels still dominate the energy landscape, and this week we go into them deeply, starting with coal. What is it? Where does it come from? Who has it? Who uses it? What problems does it cause? We will explore global warming and, more importantly, what can be done about it. You get to control the world in a climate model and see how bad (or how good) the future can be. “How Things Work” takes you into a coal power plant, a trash transfer station, and a waste treatment plant, so grab your shovels and hard hat, and let’s dig in!

19 videos (Total 248 min), 5 quizzes
19 videos
Coal: Who Has It, Wants It, and Uses It17m
What's Up with the Water?8m
Burning Coal through the Decades10m
What Goes Up in Smoke?10m
The University's Power (Plant)12m
How Things Work: A Coal (and Gas) Power Plant23m
Acid Rain14m
Trading Smoke Works10m
Cleaning Coal (I.e., Dropping Acid)7m
How Things Work: What Happens to Our Garbage21m
How the Greenhouse Works9m
Which Gasses Are Bad?3m
The Earth's Getting Warmer – How Do We Know?9m
Effects of Global Warming10m
How to Cool the Planet7m
Geoengineering – Possible? Desirable?15m
How Things Work: What Happens When You Flush Your Toilet?26m
Climate Change Assignment Introduction15m
4 practice exercises
Topic 7 Practice Quiz15m
Topic 8 Practice Quiz15m
Topic 9 Practice Quiz15m
Week 3 Quiz30m
7 hours to complete

Week 4: Oil and Gas – With Us Forever?

Oil and natural gas are the most used and most popular energy sources in the world. What are they? Where do they come from? Who uses, needs, and makes them? All the facts and the controversies over pipelines and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) are discussed in detail. All of this is tightly tied to economics so grab your wallets – you will really see where your money goes! "How Things Work” takes us to high places – an observatory, a cell phone tower, and a laser light show!

17 videos (Total 201 min), 5 quizzes
17 videos
How Do You Find It?11m
How to Get It Out13m
How to Get Even More Out!11m
Refining: Crude Conversion9m
How Things Work: Gateway to the Heavens21m
Oil Producers and Consumers14m
Tar Sands3m
Pipeline Controversies7m
Oil Economics10m
How Things Work: How Does a Cell Phone Find You?23m
From the Well to You12m
How Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) Works15m
Fracking and the Environment: Myth and Reality15m
Who Produces and Consumes Natural Gas7m
Combined Cycle and Converting Coal to Run It6m
How Things Work: Laser Light Shows9m
4 practice exercises
Topic 10 Practice Quiz15m
Topic 11 Practice Quiz15m
Topic 12 Practice Quiz15m
Week 4 Quiz30m
8 hours to complete

Week 5: Renewables – What Is New under the Sun

Renewable energy sources finally make an appearance this week. Here we will tell you about everything powered by the sun directly and indirectly. This includes photo-voltaic, passive solar design, wind, and biofuels. Again, their inner working, what is needed, and how much it costs are the focus. You will see Prof. Ruzic make moonshine and show you how you can, too. “How Things Work” takes you to an actual windmill and brewery, and, just for fun, an ice skating rink.

16 videos (Total 260 min), 5 quizzes
16 videos
The Cost of Sunshine18m
What Is “Passive” Solar?13m
How Things Work: Ice Rinks19m
How Does a Salt Pond Work?8m
How Things Work: Windmills18m
What's in a Windmill20m
Blowing in the Wind11m
There Is Always a Cost10m
Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Economy15m
Making Moonshine7m
How Things Work: How Is Beer Made?21m
What Goes into Making Biofuels?21m
Economics of Biofuels16m
Growing Stuff to Burn11m
Energy from Garbage29m
4 practice exercises
Topic 13 Practice Quiz15m
Topic 14 Practice Quiz15m
Topic 15 Practice Quiz15m
Week 5 Quiz30m
7 hours to complete

Week 6: More Renewables and Your Radioactive World

We finish up renewables this week by discussing those coming from water – hydropower, geothermal, waves, and tides. You will even see Prof. Ruzic walking on water. Then, the world of the nucleus is opened up to you. What is radioactivity and how much should be feared? What is the basis for fission and how does a power plant differ from an atomic bomb? “How Things Work” looks at the visual world – from why the sky is blue to how a 3D IMAX movie system makes it seem like you are really there.

18 videos (Total 253 min), 5 quizzes
18 videos
Large-Scale Hydropower6m
The Power of Water15m
Hot Rocks7m
Heat for Homes?10m
Home Improvements!16m
How Things Work: Walking on Water15m
How Things Work: Why Is the Sky Blue?12m
ABCs of Radiation18m
The World around You16m
How Much Is Too Much?24m
What Makes Something Radioactive?3m
Food Irradiation14m
Energy from Atoms?11m
Nuclear Fission10m
What Is in a Nuclear Reactor?9m
The Biggest Bangs!18m
How Things Work: Movie Theaters in the Modern Age13m
4 practice exercises
Topic 16 Practice Quiz15m
Topic 17 Practice Quiz15m
Topic 18 Practice Quiz15m
Week 6 Quiz30m
7 hours to complete

Week 7: Nuclear Power Problems and Solutions

This week covers the heart of nuclear power. We will follow the fuel from the ground and into the reactors. We also cover the major accidents in the history of nuclear power in detail. Do you remember Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and/or Fukushima? Do you want to understand in detail what worked and what did not, how much is costs, and if it is all worthwhile? Then be sure to watch the videos this week. “How Things Work” takes a lighter view – we visit a football stadium, go backstage at a theater, and even peer into the mind by exploring brain-scanning MRIs.

14 videos (Total 216 min), 5 quizzes
14 videos
How TMI Ended7m
What We Learned from TMI7m
How Things Work: What You Can Do with an MRI22m
Chernobyl: Worst Accident Ever19m
Xenon Can Be a Problem16m
Health Effects of Chernobyl14m
An Earthquake and Tsunami Hit Fukushima20m
How Things Work: Backstage at a Theater21m
Uranium from the Ground9m
Getting to the Good Stuff (Uranium Enrichment)12m
What Is Left Over (Depleted Uranium)9m
Economics of Nuclear Power23m
How Things Work: Behind the Scenes at a Football Stadium15m
4 practice exercises
Topic 19 Practice Quiz15m
Topic 20 Practice Quiz15m
Topic 21 Practice Quiz15m
Week 7 Quiz30m
7 hours to complete

Week 8: Our Future Is Bright!

What does the future hold? We’ll start with how to hold the spent nuclear fuel and then talk about the modern “third generation” reactors being built today that have safety systems requiring no mechanical or human intervention. This leads to reactors that can make more fuel than they use and also to nuclear fusion – the energy source of the sun. “How Things Work” explores cooking/grilling, how microwave ovens work, and super computers, taking you to arguably the largest and fastest computer in the world.

18 videos (Total 230 min), 6 quizzes
18 videos
The Real Bad Stuff (High-Level Wastes)15m
Moving Nuclear Waste Around6m
Contaminated Things (Low-Level Wastes)10m
After It Is All Over (Decommissioning)9m
How Things Work: Grilling/Cooking11m
How to Be Allowed to Build15m
The Newest Reactors (Generation III)9m
Making More Than You Use (Breeder Reactors)13m
Dealing with the Used Fuel (Reprocessing)11m
Reactors of the Future (Generation IV)9m
How Things Work: Super Computers21m
How Things Work: Microwave Ovens15m
What Is a Plasma?9m
What Is Fusion and How Do You Get It to Work?20m
Magnetic Fusion's Progress10m
Inertial Confinement's Progress6m
What Plasmas Have to Do with Computer Chips23m
5 practice exercises
Topic 22 Practice Quiz15m
Topic 23 Practice Quiz15m
Topic 24 Practice Quiz15m
Week 8 Quiz30m
End of Course Survey5m
3 ReviewsChevron Right

Top reviews from Energy, Environment, and Everyday Life

By TKAug 16th 2018

Great course by Prof. Ruzic. Very well explained, fun assignments as well.



David N. Ruzic

Abel Bliss Professor
Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering

About University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Frequently Asked Questions

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