Advanced Topics in Physics: Special Relativity
From the CTY Course Catalogue
If a woman leaves the Earth for a journey to a nearby star system traveling close to the speed of light, she will return much younger than her twin sister who has remained home. This is just one of the amazing, counterintuitive discoveries revealed by Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, which revolutionized physics. With perhaps the most famous equation in all of science, E = mc2, Einstein’s theory revealed that matter and energy are equivalent, setting the stage for atomic bombs and nuclear power plants. His theory incorporated time as the fourth dimension in the equations of physics, rather than treating it as distinct from space. It showed that the length of an object depends on how fast it is moving relative to an observer, that even the passage of time depends on relative motion, and that the mass of an object varies with speed.
Building upon concepts from introductory physics, students begin by studying the problems and inadequacies of Newtonian mechanics and the theory of electricity and magnetism. They then shift their focus to Einstein’s groundbreaking solution, the Special Theory of Relativity. Topics covered include the principle of relativity and the light postulate, simultaneity, Lorentz transformations, relativistic kinematics and dynamics, light cones, k-calculus, and Minkowski spacetime. Students also explore the basic concepts underlying Einstein’s later General Theory of Relativity and how it can be used to understand the universe and phenomena like gravitational lensing and black holes.
Students leave with an understanding of crucial modern developments in physics and the skills to analyze and understand the surprising universe in which we live.