In this course we will seek to “understand Einstein,” especially focusing
on the special theory of relativity that Albert Einstein, as a 26-year-old
patent clerk, introduced in his so-called “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?

Students may choose one of three approaches to the course: a more quantitative
approach, a more qualitative approach, or an auditing approach. The more
quantitative approach will include weekly problem sets, while the more
qualitative approach will include a creative project relating to the young
Einstein and/or the special theory of relativity.

**Week One (Einstein in Context):** Einstein quotes of the week; a thought
experiment involving relativity; physics and Einstein circa 1900.

**Week Two (Events, Clocks, and Reference Frames):** Einstein quotes
of the week; synchronizing clocks; the famous June 1905 paper; thinking
more deeply about events and observers; understanding inertial frames of
reference; spacetime diagrams; the Galilean transformation; Einstein's
starting point: the two postulates.

**Week Three (Ethereal Problems and Solutions):** Einstein quotes of
the week; a few words about waves; the luminiferous ether; the Michelson-Morley
experiment vs. stellar aberration; how do you solve a problem like the
ether?; the solutions of Fitzgerald, Lorentz, Poincare, and Einstein.

**Week Four (The Weirdness Begins):** Einstein quotes of the week; the
light constancy principle; time and length are suspect; what isn't suspect;
exploring the Lorentz factor; the miracle of the muon.

**Week Five (Spacetime Switching):** Einstein quotes of the week; the
Lorentz transformation; leading clocks lag; the ultimate speed limit.

**Week Six (Breaking the Spacetime Speed Limit?): **Einstein quotes
of the week; spacetime diagrams revisited; regions of spacetime; cause
and effect, or vice versa?; faster than light paradoxes.

**Week Seven (Paradoxes to Ponder): **Einstein quotes of the week;
the pole-in-the-barn paradox; the spaceships-on-a-rope paradox; how length
contraction actually works; the twin paradox.

**Week Eight (To the Center of the Galaxy and Back): **Einstein quotes
of the week; traveling the galaxy in one lifetime; the reception of relativity;
Einstein's Nobel Prize and the nature of genius; relativity beyond science.

No prior knowledge is required. Anyone who is willing to engage with the
material is welcome. (For students choosing the more quantitative approach,
a familiarity with basic algebra will be helpful. But a brief math review
will be provided.)

Although the course is designed to be self-contained, it is recommended
(but not required) that you read the following profile: "Young Einstein:
From the Doxerl Affair to the Miracle Year," by L. Randles Lagerstrom,
available for US$2.99 from Amazon Direct Publishing (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BKKHS4U).
You may also download the free software for viewing it here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000493771. (Versions
are available for PCs, Macs, tablets, and smart phones.)

Students may choose one of three approaches to the course: a more quantitative
approach, a more qualitative approach, or an auditing approach. The more
quantitative approach will include weekly problem sets, while the more
qualitative approach will include a creative project relating to the young
Einstein and/or the special theory of relativity. (Students who choose
the quantitative approach may also do a creative project if they wish.)

The more quantitative approach is designed for those students who desire
the deepest understanding of the special theory of relativity (within the
introductory context of this course). Although one can gain a good understanding
of the theory via a qualitative approach, the theory is ultimately a mathematical
theory. The mathematics required, however, is not advanced. A familiarity
with basic algebra will suffice. (For those whose knowledge is rusty, a
review of the math needed is provided in a video clip.) The primary assignments
for students who take this approach will be to watch lecture videos each
week, take an assessment quiz for each video, take a weekly review quiz,
and work on weekly problem sets.

The more qualitative approach is designed for those students who desire
a deeper understanding of Einstein and the special theory of relativity,
focusing on the concepts and results. The primary assignments for students
who take this approach will be to watch lecture videos each week, take
an assessment quiz for each video, and take a weekly review quiz. (Though
the videos will cover quantitative aspects of the theory, the quizzes will
focus on the concepts and results.) Students will also complete a creative
project relating to the young Einstein and/or the special theory of relativity
(e.g., a video, poem, musical piece, artwork, animation, etc.). The creative
project may be instructional, humorous, serious, or dramatic, or some combination
thereof. Further guidelines will be given in a later handout.

The auditing approach is designed for those students who want to learn
more about Einstein and the special theory of relativity, but may not want
to complete all the assignments in one of the other approaches.

**Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?**Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

**What resources will I need for this class?**For this course, all you need is an Internet connection and the willingness to think.

**What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class?**Learning how an unknown patent clerk came up with the special theory of relativity is certainly a fascinating story. And there are many cool things we will learn that come out of the theory itself, such as that one person can age significantly more slowly than another, that it's possible to travel to the center of the galaxy and back in one lifetime, and that time travel into the future is possible. But perhaps the coolest thing is simply to learn more about, in Einstein's words, "the mystery ... of the marvelous structure of reality."