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2024-25 Catalog coming August 5th!

This site is currently under construction. If you are an incoming frosh, rising sophomore or new transfer student, please check back August 5th, when you can browse next year's IntroSems and start applying for priority enrollment in up to 3 seminars per quarter.

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APPPHYS 79N: Energy Options for the 21st Century

Application Deadline: August 26
Stanford solar car project car driving near the Stanford quad.

General Education Requirements


Course Description

The world consumption of fossil fuels, associated climate impacts and the options for a renewable energy economy are demanding solutions from today’s scientists, engineers, and policymakers. In this seminar, we will look at choices that can be envisioned for meeting the future energy needs of the United States and the rest of our planet, and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. We'll explore the basic physics of energy sources, the technologies we might employ, and some of the intertwined public policy issues.

The first half of our course will survey possible energy technologies and develop an appreciation of the underlying physics to provide some quantitative estimates of the tradeoffs. We will explore the uses of energy in the US and world economy, and how we might change the resource mix going forward. We will explore fossil fuels, nuclear energy, biofuels, improving efficiency, renewables including wind, solar, tidal, hydropower and geothermal energy and learn how to compare their impacts and attractiveness with regard to global warming. In the second half of the course, the seminar members (individually or in groups) will be asked to prepare a discussion and paper on a selected technology or on a related public policy choice. An inquiring mind, but no previous expertise or course prerequisites, is required. We hope that you will learn to appreciate the need to bring quantitative estimates to the policy options in order to make rational choices for a sustainable world energy economy. We will use both lecture and discussion formats, and every class we critique material we find in the popular press in a short 15 minutes of “news and views”. As this is an election year, we will have numerous opportunities to critique energy policy proposals. With the unfolding events in Europe, our class can follow technical and policy Energy ideas “in real time” as they are implemented internationally in response to this energy resource and international relations crisis. As an example, we can look at the last 2 winters’ emergency energy policies and responses in Europe and sort out what choices were made to respond to the shutdown of Russian natural gas supplies.

This Fall 2024 class is anticipated to be an in-person seminar; we are planning our field trips as in-person events to learn from local experts.  

This seminar is most immediately accessible for first- and second-year students with some science background, but we are particularly interested in a balanced class with a mix of technology and public policy directions as we think the intersections of science and policy viewpoints foster great class discussions.

Meet the Instructor: John Fox

John Fox

"I am an adjunct professor in applied physics with longstanding research interests that center on particle accelerators, particle-beam dynamics and high-speed signal-processing systems. In the last 20 years I have been increasingly interested in energy technologies and policies, and have tried to produce generations of Stanford students interested and qualified to contribute as energy researchers as well as policy advocates. My technology interests include energy and transportation technologies, and I have an active research program in optimal control methods for plug-in hybrid automobiles. I am also interested in how societal desires and value (in land use, urban design, and architecture) influence the demand for and choices of energy. I have been honored with the Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching, and I am a Fellow of the American Physical Society."