Theory of Relativity

At the end of the 19th century, many thought that physics was nearly complete. The classical theory of mechanics, Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism, optics, and statistical mechanics could explain most phenomena. However, a few discrepancies between observation and theory remained. Utilizing ingenious thought experiments, Einstein completely reformulated how space and time were viewed. His new theory of special relativity (1905) is a surprisingly simple theory that provides explanations for some of the aforementioned discrepancies. In this course, a more modern, more geometric view is followed, allowing students to pursue challenging problems in many areas of physics. Once the special theory has been mastered, the inclusion of gravity introduces the general theory of relativity. This theory, dating from 1917 and providing a much more mathematically sophisticated account, is presented in a simplified manner that bypasses the formal mathematics yet emphasizes the geometric nature of the theory. The last portion of the course covers such special topics as black holes and cosmology. The program includes visits to facilities at Stanford conducting related research. This course is not a survey course; it provides a rigorous introduction to these theories allowing a sophisticated discussion of current topics. Emphasis is placed on solving challenging quantitative problems.