Understanding Einstein's theory of relativity - and why it matters
Time: 10:30 - 13:00
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Course Code: HS173
Duration: 2 sessions
What is the course about?
Relativity consists, in fact, of two closely related theories, special and general relativity, the former applicable in the absence of gravity, the latter incorporating gravity. These two theories, published by Einstein in 1905 and 1916 respectively, transformed physics and indeed reached beyond the realm of the theoretical, with practical implications for our understanding of the relationship between matter and energy which ultimately led to the development of the atomic bomb.
In the course we will consider what special and general relativity tell us, and how the theories have predicted many phenomena such as time dilation, gravitational waves and black holes, all of which have been subsequently observed.
This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.
What will we cover?
- The two postulates of special relativity concerning observers and the speed of light.
- The implications of the two postulates, including time dilation and mass-energy equivalence, expressed in the famous equation E=mc^2.
- The assumption of the equivalence between accelerated motion and being at rest in a gravitational field, and how this gave rise to general relativity.
- The implications of general relativity, including the prediction of the curvature of light by gravity and the theoretical possibility of black holes.
- The current status of relativity within physics, its incompatibility with quantum mechanics, and some of the attempts to reconcile these two theories.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
- Identify how Einstein formulated his theories of relativity.
- Describe what special and general relativity tell us.
- Explain the main implications of special and general relativity.
- Describe how relativity relates to other areas of physics.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
The course is suitable for those with no prior background in physics, but will also be of interest to those who have studied some physics at any level. No particular skills are required. Students will be encouraged to ask questions and participate in discussion, but will not be required to do so.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
A series of slides will be presented, with explanation provided by the tutor. Questions are welcome, and there will be opportunity for discussion.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
You may wish to have a pen and paper to hand to make your own notes, but there is no required reading. Possible further reading and courses will be suggested.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
HS188 Science guest lecture: Radmila Topalovic on Women who have revolutionised the world of physics
HS243 Chemistry from alpha carbon to zymurgy
HS212 Astrophysics Day
HS136 The physics of time.
Dr. Gary Retallick got his Phd in Physics at Kings college in London in 2006. His dissertation explored the physics of time, touching upon relativity, field equations, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics and metaphysics. Followng a stint within the world of teaching philosophy, Gary now teaches physics and mathematics at both Birkbeck College and the Open University alongside running several physics, chemistry and maths courses at City Lit (incl. Cornish).
Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.