Online course: Understanding Einstein: The Special Theory of Relativity

Dates: any time

Duration: 81 hours

Rating: 4.9 / 5.0 out of 2196 ratings (see top rating courses here)

Participating countries: any country

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Organizer: Stanford at Coursera

Cost:

  • FREE
  • $49 with sharable certificate

Understanding Einstein: The Special Theory of Relativity

In this course we will seek to “understand Einstein,” especially focusing on the special theory of relativity that Albert Einstein, as a twenty-six year old patent clerk, introduced in his “miracle year” of 1905. Our goal will be to go behind the myth-making and beyond the popularized presentations of relativity in order to gain a deeper understanding of both Einstein the person and the concepts, predictions, and strange paradoxes of his theory. Some of the questions we will address include: How did Einstein come up with his ideas? What was the nature of his genius? What is the meaning of relativity? What’s “special” about the special theory of relativity? Why did the theory initially seem to be dead on arrival? What does it mean to say that time is the “fourth dimension”? Can time actually run more slowly for one person than another, and the size of things change depending on their velocity? Is time travel possible, and if so, how? Why can’t things travel faster than the speed of light? Is it possible to travel to the center of the galaxy and return in one lifetime? Is there any evidence that definitively confirms the theory, or is it mainly speculation? Why didn’t Einstein win the Nobel Prize for the theory of relativity?

About the instructor: Dr. Larry Lagerstrom is the Director of Academic Programs at Stanford University’s Center for Professional Development, which offers graduate certificates in subjects such as artificial intelligence, cyber security, data mining, nanotechnology, innovation, and management science. He holds degrees in physics, mathematics, and the history of science, has published a book and a TED Ed video on “Young Einstein: From the Doxerl Affair to the Miracle Year,” and has had over 30,000 students worldwide enroll in his online course on the special theory of relativity (this course!).

Instructor

 

 

Programme

WEEK 1: 5 hours to complete

Introduction to the Course, and Einstein in Context

Why take this course?
Course overview
How to succeed in the course
Rules of engagement
Math review
Physics and Einstein circa 1900
To the miracle year
The miracle year
Course overview (outline)
How to succeed in the course (outline)
Rules of engagement (outline)
Math review (outline)
Physics and Einstein circa 1900 (outline)
To the miracle year (outline)
The miracle year (outline)
Physics and Einstein circa 1900
To the miracle year
The miracle year

WEEK 2: 11 hours to complete

Events, Clocks, and Reference Frames

Events, clocks, and observers
Spacetime diagrams
A few more words on world lines
The Galilean transformation
Events, clocks, and observers
Spacetime diagrams
A few more words on world lines (outline)
The Galilean transformation (outline)
Week 2 problem set (optional)
Week 2 problem set solutions
Events, clocks, and observers (parts 1 and 2)
Spacetime diagrams
A few more words on world lines
The Galilean transformation3

WEEK 3: 10 hours to complete

Ethereal Problems and Solutions

Einstein’s starting point: the two postulates
A few words about waves
The Michelson-Morley experiment
Ethereal solutions
A note on “Einstein and God”
A note on wave-particle duality and the nature of light
Einstein’s starting point: the two postulates (outline)
A few words about waves
The Michelson-Morley experiment
Stellar aberration (outline)
Ethereal solutions (outline)
Einstein’s starting point: the two postulates
A few words about waves (parts 1, 2, and 3)
The Michelson-Morley experiment (all parts)
Stellar aberration
Ethereal solutions

WEEK 4: 12 hours to complete

The Weirdness Begins

The relativity of simultaneity
The relativity of simultaneity (summary)
The light clock
Exploring the Lorentz factor
Time dilation
Measuring length
What is not suspect
The invariant interval
A real-life example: the muon
The relativity of simultaneity
The light clock
Exploring the Lorentz factor (outline)
Time dilation (outline)
Measuring length (diagram)
What is not suspect (outline)
The invariant interval (outline)
A real-life example: the muon (outline)
The relativity of simultaneity
The light clock and exploring the Lorentz factor
Time dilation
Measuring length
What is not suspect, and the invariant interval3
The muon

WEEK 5: 14 hours to complete

Spacetime Switches

Units for the speed of light
Exploring time dilation and length contraction (part 1)
The Lorentz transformation
Exploring the Lorentz transformation
Leading clocks lag, revisited (a quantitative analysis)
Leading clocks lag, revisited (alternate shorter version)
Exploring time dilation and length contraction (part 2)
Combining velocities
Combining velocities, addendum
The ultimate speed limit
What happens with perpendicular velocities?
Units for the speed of light (outline)
Exploring time dilation and length contraction (part 1) (outline)
The Lorentz transformation
Exploring the Lorentz transformation
Leading clocks lag, revisited (outline)
Exploring time dilation and length contraction (part 2) (outline)
Combining velocities (outline)
The ultimate speed limit (outline)
What happens with perpendicular velocities? (outline)
Week 5 problem set (optional)
Week 5 problem set solutions
Units for the speed of light
Exploring time dilation and length contraction (part 1)
The Lorentz transformation (parts 1, 2, and 3)
Exploring the Lorentz transformation (parts 1, 2, and 3)
Leading clocks lag, revisited
Exploring time dilation and length contraction (part 2)
Combining velocities
The ultimate speed limit
What happens with perpendicular velocities?

WEEK 6: 11 hours to complete

Breaking the Spacetime Speed Limit

Spacetime diagrams revisited
Regions of spacetime
Faster than light?
Cause and effect, or vice versa?
Spacetime diagrams revisited
Regions of spacetime (outline)
Faster than light? (outline)
Cause and effect, or vice versa? (outline)
Week 6 problem set (optional)
Week 6 problem set solutions
Spacetime diagrams revisited
Regions of spacetime
Faster than light?
Cause and effect, or vice versa?

WEEK 7: 9 hours to complete

Paradoxes to Ponder

Cause and effect: spacetime diagram
The pole in the barn paradox
The pole in the barn: spacetime diagram
How objects contract
Spaceships on a rope
The twin parado
Cause and effect: spacetime diagram (outline)
The pole in the barn paradox (outline)
The pole in the barn: spacetime diagram (outline)
How objects contract (outline)
Spaceships on a rope (outline)
The twin paradox
Cause and effect: spacetime diagram
The pole in the barn paradox and spacetime diagram
How objects contract, and spaceships on a rope
The twin paradox (parts 1-4)

WEEK 8: 9 hours to complete

To the Center of the Galaxy and Back

Traveling the galaxy (part 1)
The famous equation
Traveling the galaxy (part 2)
The happiest thought
The bending of light
Traveling the galaxy (part 1) (outline)
The famous equation (outline)
Traveling the galaxy (part 2) (outline)
The happiest thought (outline)
The bending of light (outline)