We will explore the surprising consequences of Einstein’s postulate that the speed of light is the same for all observers, regardless of their motion relative to the light source. Class sessions will be conducted in a seminar format, and will be focused on student-led problem solving rather than instructor’s lectures. Through reading, discussion, and problem solving we will learn how observers in different reference frames may disagree about measurements of length and time intervals between two events, and we’ll learn how to use spacetime diagrams to represent each observer’s measurements. We’ll learn why objects cannot move faster than the speed of light. The course concludes with a study of relativistic energy and momentum with applications to nuclear and high-energy physics. If possible, we will tour the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, where protons are accelerated to nearly the speed of light and collisions of high-energy particles transform energy into mass and vice versa.
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