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Sioux Falls Scientists endorse Einstein's Relativity and the
Quantum Revolution
for tying together the two foundations
of modern physics, Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.

Einstein's Relativity
and the Quantum Revolution:
Modern Physics for Non-Scientists
Lectures by Professor Richard Wolfson

Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution (2000) - 24 lectures, 12 hours
Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution at TheGreatCourses.com

"It doesn't take an Einstein to understand modern physics," says Professor Richard Wolfson at the outset of this course on what may be the most important subject in the universe.

Relativity and quantum physics touch the very basis of physical reality, altering our commonsense notions of space and time, cause and effect. Both have reputations for complexity. But the basic ideas behind relativity and quantum physics are, in fact, simple and comprehensible by anyone. As Professor Wolfson points out, the essence of relativity can be summed up in a single sentence: The laws of physics are the same for all observers in uniform motion.

The same goes for quantum theory, which is based on the principle that the "stuff " of the universe - matter and energy - is not infinitely divisible but comes in discrete chunks called "quanta."

Profound ... Beautiful ... Relevant

Why should you care about these landmark theories? Because relativity and quantum physics are not only profound and beautiful ideas in their own right, they are also the gateway to understanding many of the latest science stories in the media. These are the stories about time travel, string theory, black holes, space telescopes, particle accelerators, and other cutting-edge developments.

Consider these ideas:

  • Although Einstein's theory of general relativity dates from 1914, it has not been possible to test certain predictions until recently. The Hubble Space Telescope is providing some of the most striking confirmations of the theory, including certain evidence for the existence of black holes, objects that warp space and time so that not even light can escape. Also, the expansion of the universe predicted by the theory of general relativity is now a known rate.
  • General relativity also predicts an even weirder phenomenon called "wormholes" that offer shortcuts to remote reaches of time and space.
  • According to Einstein's theory of special relativity, two twins would age at different rates if one left on a high-speed journey to a distant star and then returned. This experiment has actually been done, not with twins, but with an atomic clock flown around the world. Another fascinating experiment confirming that time slows as speed increases comes from measuring muons at the top and bottom of mountains.
  • A seemingly absurd consequence of quantum mechanics, called "quantum tunneling," makes it possible for objects to materialize through impenetrable barriers. Quantum tunneling happens all the time on the subatomic scale and plays an important role in electronic devices and the nuclear processes that keep the sun shining.
  • Some predictions about the expansion of the universe were so odd that Einstein himself tried to rewrite the mathematics in order to eliminate them. When Hubble discovered the expansion of the universe, Einstein called the revisions the biggest mistake he had ever made.
  • An intriguing thought experiment called "Schrödinger's cat" suggests that a cat in an enclosed box is simultaneously alive and dead under experimental conditions involving quantum phenomena.

From Aristotle to the Theory of Everything

Professor Wolfson begins with a brief overview of theories of physical reality starting with Aristotle and culminating in Newtonian or "classical" physics. Then he outlines the logic that led to Einstein's theory of special relativity, and the simple yet far-reaching insight on which it rests.

With that insight in mind, you move on to consider Einstein's theory of general relativity and its interpretation of gravitation in terms of the curvature of space and time.

Professor Wolfson then shows how inquiry into matter at the atomic and subatomic scales led to quandaries that are resolved - or at least clarified - by quantum mechanics, a vision of physical reality so at odds with our experience that it nearly defies language.

Bringing relativity and quantum mechanics into the same picture leads to hypotheses about the origin, development, and possible futures of the entire universe, and the possibility that physics can produce a "theory of everything" to account for all aspects of the physical world.

Professor Richard Wolfson is the Benjamin F. Wissler Professor of Physics at Middlebury College. He is an expert at interpreting concepts in physics, climatology, and engineering for the nonspecialist. He is also the author of several books, including Essential University Physics and Simply Einstein: Relativity Demystified.

24 Lectures - 30 minutes each

1: Time Travel, Tunneling, Tennis, and Tea 13: A Problem of Gravity
2: Heaven and Earth, Place and Motion 14: Curved Spacetime
3: The Clockwork Universe 15: Black Holes
4: Let There Be Light! 16: Into the Heart of Matter
5: Speed c Relative to What? 17: Enter the Quantum
6: Earth and the Ether—A Crisis in Physics 18: Wave or Particle?
7: Einstein to the Rescue 19: Quantum Uncertainty—Farewell to Determinism
8: Uncommon Sense—Stretching Time 20: Particle or Wave?
9: Muons and Time-Traveling Twins 21: Quantum Weirdness and Schrödinger's Cat
10: Escaping Contradiction—Simultaneity Is Relative 22: The Particle Zoo
11: Faster than Light? Past, Future, and Elsewhere 23: Cosmic Connections
12: What about E=mc² and Is Everything Relative? 24: Toward a Theory of Everything


5-24-19 The man who made Einstein world-famous
It is hard to imagine a time when Albert Einstein's name was not recognised around the world. But even after he finished his theory of relativity in 1915, he was nearly unknown outside Germany - until British astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington became involved. Einstein's ideas were trapped by the blockades of the Great War, and even more by the vicious nationalism that made "enemy" science unwelcome in the UK. But Einstein, a socialist, and Eddington, a Quaker, both believed that science should transcend the divisions of the war. It was their partnership that allowed relativity to leap the trenches and make Einstein one of the most famous people on the globe. Einstein and Eddington did not meet during the war, or even send direct messages. Instead, a mutual friend in the neutral Netherlands decided to spread the new theory of relativity to Britain. Einstein was very, very lucky that it was Eddington, the Plumian Professor at Cambridge and officer of the Royal Astronomical Society, who received that letter. Not only did he understand the theory's complicated mathematics, as a pacifist he was one of the few British scientists willing to even think about German science. He dedicated himself to championing Einstein to both revolutionise the foundations of science and restore internationalism to scientists themselves. Einstein was the perfect symbol for this - a brilliant, peaceful German who refuted every wartime stereotype while challenging the deepest truths of Newton himself. So, as Einstein was trapped in Berlin, starving behind the blockade and living under government surveillance for his political views, Eddington tried to convince a hostile English-speaking world that an enemy scientist was worthy of their attention. He wrote the first books on relativity, gave popular lectures on Einstein, and became one of the great science communicators of the 20th Century.

Einstein's Relativity
and the Quantum Revolution:
Modern Physics for Non-Scientists
Professor Richard Wolfson

Sioux Falls Scientists endorse Einstein's Relativity and the
Quantum Revolution
for tying together the two foundations
of modern physics, Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.