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Theory of Relativity

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Course DatesWeeksMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRN
June 30, 2014 - July 11, 20142M-F 12:45-3:35POpenScott Field10055

Course Description

This course provides an introduction to Einstein's theories of special and general relativity. These theories have had a profound impact on science and technology as well as our worldview of the universe. By the course's end, students will have a much greater understanding of relativity, its importance, and many of its surprises.

Einstein's theories of special and general relativity are two of the pillars of modern physics. It is deeply counter-intuitive, yet beautiful and ingenious. What does relativity tell us about the Universe? What are space and time? What would the world look like if the speed of light were 100 mph? What is a black hole and if you fall into one, what's the best survival plan? Special relativity reformulates how space and time are viewed and introduces the famous equation E = mc^2, suggesting a conversion between energy and mass. General relativity is a geometrical theory of gravitation: Gravitation is not due to a force, but is a "bending" of space and time.

This course is aimed to give an introduction to both special and general relativity. Special relativity will be discussed in some mathematical detail. Discussion of general relativity will be mostly based on geometrical intuition. As time permits we will consider a variety of special topics including black holes, twin paradox, time travel, dark matter, dark energy, super luminal neutrinos, gravitational waves, and alternative theories to general relativity (e.g. String Theory and Brane World Cosmology).

This course will include lectures, discussions, labs, demonstrations, homework and reading assignments, and a final project to be chosen by the student. Course material will also draw from online resources.

Both the concepts and mathematics necessary to understand relativity will be covered, while broader skills such as problem solving, building appropriate physical intuition, and abstract reasoning will be developed. Students will be able to mathematically calculate some of the most remarkable predictions of relativity such as time dilation, length contraction, and the energy generated in a nuclear power plant -- to name a few. Students will be exposed to a variety of topics (see description) which will enable them to have a greater understanding of current scientific research as well as an increased appreciation of science in general.

Algebra and trigonometry will be assumed. Some familiarity with units of measurement, displacement, speed, and Newton's equations (e.g. F=ma) might be helpful and will be reviewed at the beginning of the course. No physics knowledge is assumed, and necessary skills will be developed.