Online Physics

PHY 194 - Energy Matters


Physics underlies many of the basic functions of heating, lighting, transportation, even cooking! Understanding basic physics will help you with using energy wisely, making decisions about what appliances to buy and why, how to best cool your home, etc. In this course you'll be using and developing skills in critical thinking, analysis, estimating and evaluating data. Specifically, by the end of this course you will know what energy is, how it is used, transmitted, and stored, how to estimate how much you are using, and how to estimate how long various energy sources will last. You will also understand the role that basic physics plays in constraining possible solutions to energy sustainability moving forward and how it (and a diverse and inclusive physics community) is part of the complex problem of addressing the global challenges we face.

Course prerequisites and requirements

To be successful in this course, we recommend English language fluency and computer literacy. We also encourage you to make sure your laptop or desktop computer meets the technical requirements.

The math needed for this course is algebra, powers and exponentials; and you will learn how to use exponentials/logarithms.

MAT 117 College Algebra is strongly suggested as a prerequisite for success in this course.

Quick facts

Next start date:

Jan. 09, 2024

  • Credits: 4
  • Length: 16 weeks
  • Cost: $25 + $400

What you’ll learn

  • Examine why understanding the laws of physics matters in the global energy conversation. Identify different types of energy. Explain how energy transforms from one type to another. Explain how we store it and transmit it.
  • Examine how the energy available limits the work that can be done (in a physics sense). Learn that a fundamental law of physics prevents the creation of energy from nothing.
  • Explain how we can use energy to do useful work, but we always end up producing heat and how this is due to the reality of the world we live in as expressed as a fundamental law of physics. Explain why we cannot make machines that are perfectly efficient and why extracting heat from one location adds additional heat to another.
  • Explain the relationship between the power of a device and how much energy it consumes. Propose ways that you can reduce the energy you use.
  • Evaluate the sources we can extract energy from and their advantages and disadvantages both for individual and community use. Develop an understanding of how choices we make about our energy usage have wider impacts.
  • Examine how we can make better estimates and the limits to making predictions. Explore how we assess and evaluate risks in making decisions.
  • Learn how we estimate when a resource will run out. Develop an understanding of exponential growth and decay and why understanding exponentials is so important when thinking about sustainability. Reflect on the complexities of deciding how best to move forward balancing current needs against future consequences.
  • Explore how to use basic ideas to make simple calculations that will guide in understanding what is possible/not possible moving forward.
  • Understand how to evaluate your carbon footprint and think about the most impactful ways to reduce it.

What to expect in class

Interactive lecture series, OER textbook readings, active learning activities, supplemental learning materials, weekly quizzes, a learning community with weekly discussion, and capstone paper

Exams and grading




Learning Activities


Problem Solving Homework & Quizzes


Capstone Project


This course appears on your transcript identically to how it appears on the transcript of an enrolled ASU student who has taken the course on one of ASU’s campuses.

This course includes a lab and satisfies 4 credit hours toward the Natural Science - Quantitative (SQ) General Studies requirement at Arizona State University. It is strongly encouraged that you consult with your institution of choice to determine how these credits will be applied to their degree requirements prior to transferring your credit.

Faculty and course staff




Chair & Professor,

Department of Physics

Arizona State University

Read bio

Why take ASU Universal Learner Courses

  1. Credit you receive is from a regionally accredited university
  2. Your credit is highly transferable
  3. You only pay the $400 course cost if you pass

Related programs

Online BS in Physics

Online BSE in Electrical Engineering - Electric Power and Energy Systems