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The Smarter Brain Challenge

Maria Hill: “When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics?” 1
Tony Stark: “Last night.” 2

If Tony Stark can become an expert in astrophysics in one night, then surely I can learn the basics of physics in one year?

Why are you doing this?

Because I can. I spent years absorbing material from blogs and books at random, but I didn’t have the necessary foundation in place to fully understand what I was reading, so I ended up not learning anything. So, I’ve elected to try the systematic approach this time around.

What’s your goal?

I want to be able to explain basic concepts off the top of my head in a fashion that a monkey can understand.

What classes are you taking?

The following subjects from MIT OpenCourseWare (or similar online courses if exams/assignments are not available):


  1. 18.01 Single Variable Calculus
  2. 18.02 Multi Variable Calculus
  3. 18.03 Differential Equations
  4. 18.06 Linear Algebra
  5. 18.152 Partial Differential Equations


  1. 8.01 Physics I: Newtonian Mechanics
  2. 8.02 Physics II: Electricty and Magnetism
  3. 8.03 Physics III: Vibrations and Waves
  4. 8.033 Relativity
  5. 8.04 Quantum Physics I
  6. 8.05 Quantum Physics II
  7. 8.06 Quantum Physics III
  8. 8.07 Electromagnetism II
  9. 8.21 The Physics of Energy
  10. 8.224 Exploring Black Holes
  11. 8.282J Introduction to Astronomy
  12. 8.284 Modern Astrophysics
  13. 8.286 The Early Universe
  14. 8.901 Astrophysics I

What’s the timeframe?

One month per physics subject. The plan right now is to do the five math subjects alongside the first five physics subjects. We’ll see if that’s achievable or stressful and adjust the timeframes appropriately.

Presently, the timeframe is 14 months = December 31, 2014.

How do you know if you passed a class?

I pass a class if I get an overall course grade of at least 95%

What if you don’t pass a class?

I’ll retake it. The idea is to fully understand each subject, not trick the non-existent teacher.

  1. Is that even a real subject? 
  2. From The Avengers 
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