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Back to Understanding Einstein: The Special Theory of Relativity

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2,869 ratings

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!)....

SS

Dec 8, 2019

Almost anyone can learn about the special theory of relativity from these lectures. I actually can't believe that I studied from a professor who teaches in the USA and in so simple way. I am grateful.

BH

Jun 22, 2017

This course is very comprehensive and well prepared material for understanding the Special Theory of Relativity. Larry (the instructor) is very expert and has broad knowledge in explaining the course.

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By Collin O

•May 24, 2020

I enjoyed every bit of the course and cannot stress how much I appreciate the work that went into this. I especially like the lecturer; Larry Randles Lagerstrom, and how he was able to execute such perfect teaching as well as sticking true to the the saying 'festina lente'. This course has managed to drive my curiosity and engage me thoroughly. In fact, time went by so fast during the course that I wonder if the effects of special relativity somehow managed to play a part in it. I started the course with the hopes of learning something new but it wasn't the outcome I loved the most it was the struggle and the journey to get there. Big props to the University of Stanford for making this a free course. I rate this a 5/5

By Niaz A

•Sep 6, 2020

Great course! Well structured, builds up prerequisite concepts nicely, and ties it all together well. Dr. Lagerstrom looks at the ideas from different perspectives: conceptually, diagramatically with space-time diagrams and quantitatively with Lorentz' transformation. The multiple representations supplement each other and reinforce our understanding. In the end, I was able to finally get a good grasp of the basic ideas of special theory of relativity, which was a lifetime goal for me. And wrap my head around the "paradoxes" that are its consequences. These paradoxes made no sense to me in the past, but they did during this course, and it was a joyful experience. Just glad I found the course and completed it.

By wenjiong z

•Jul 24, 2019

Great experience! I watched dozens of videos regarding special relativity but failed to understand. This course led you step by step with patience and you will have your big bang in the week 3rd. If you can pass week 3rd, you will probably grab the course successfully. My confusion is about the speed limit of light and the concept of relative speed. I raised my questions probably over a dozen rounds and Mr.Larry always give me help with 24 hours. What a great help. My suggestion to the course is : Please add a little bit more about relative speed. Can relative speed exceed C? Because such concept is crucial in my view to go through WEEK 3rd. A/w, great experience and Solute to THE TEAM. Thank

By Anna O

•Oct 11, 2018

Literally the BEST course I've ever taken online! Perfectly structured, very detailed, very accurate and informative. I am a dozen steps closer to my dream of getting properly educated in the field of physics and the realm of exact sciences about the Universe. I enormously admire Prof. Lagerstrom as he's obviously put a lot of effort in preparing all necessary materials, making it all vivid and human with the help of quotes, stories and remarks about Einstein, always making sure the students understand the material and receive and remember it logically structured. Prof. Lagerstrom seems extremely charismatic and engaging to me, I regret this is the only course of his on Coursera. Thank you so much!

By Wenxin D

•Dec 23, 2017

Thank You Professor Lagerstrom, the course is outstanding. I loved the way the course was taught, everything was linked to real life situations and easy to follow. At first I felt that the course was going a little slow but then I realised that a solid foundation is absolutely necessary in order for future understanding. If you skip too much of the first part you might lose some insight and not capture the fundamental ideas. I strongly recommend this course, specially for those who aren't too sophisticated with maths, since this course does not rely on mathematical derivations, but rather on diagrams, thought experiments and logical reasoning. It is definitely worth of 5 out of 5 stars.

By Alekhya V

•Jul 5, 2022

I absolutely loved and enjoyed this course. A lot of complex content was explained by the instructor using very simple Math and Physics, which makes the entire course much more easier to comprehend. I felt the pace of instruction was perfect. My love and admiration for the subject of Physics, Einstein as both a scientist and person, and fundamentally how the universe works grew multifold. Definitely recommend this beautiful course for those interested in how the universe works. A special thank you to the instructor for using colourful props and examples which made the overall content much more relatable. Truly loved this course and look forward to more courses by the instructor!

By david w

•Oct 21, 2017

The tutor is excellent, the pace of the course is good, the material is sufficient and everything proceeds logically and succinctly. Lots of interesting ideas and context. Understanding Special Relativity, objective met.

I was surprised to learn that the idea follows from some simple premises and so anyone with an interest can follow along qualitatively to appreciate the idea. Math ability is not essential but a modest ability I suggest would help to follow along. For anyone who wants more, and has the time, there is plenty of optional extra study material to work through.

I will return to the course in a few months and review the material as there is a lot to take in.

By Jonathan C

•Mar 1, 2021

I thoroughly enjoyed this course. The video lectures are excellent with the material presented clearly. The pace of the course is just about right - the content is delivered fairly slowly and deliberately which is understandable given the thought-inducing nature of the concepts presented, especially for those unfamiliar with Einstein's theories. It's been a while since I've done any mathematics during my higher education days when and was very happy to rediscover some of this and to find the level needed not overly difficult.

Thanks to StanfordU/Coursera for offering the course, and to Larry for a great learning experience!

By Eric O

•Dec 30, 2020

An excellent educational experience. This course is designed for people with an interest In the topic with the main prerequisite being a familiarity with high school algebra. it is a wonderful exploration of Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity that will leave you with a general understanding of the underlying concepts and their implications. Larry Langerstom's teaching style is well suited for the material presented, especially for non physicists and engineers. He takes his time explaining key concepts and this allows the student to grasp the foundational material necessary to better understand Einstein's Theory.

By Francois K

•Apr 22, 2019

Clear and detailed introduction to the Special Theory of Relativity, including deriving the basic formulae involved on the topic, and advanced work made optional but available for most weeks' topics. The basic introductory analogies are simple to follow along but stunning in their implications, such as the famous light clocks not only in Alice and Bob's frames of reference but also in an elevator to touch upon the General Theory of Relativity at the end. After being a physics and relativity geek all my life, this course actually crystallized relativity and I finally understand precisely the strange effects of the theory.

By Paola S

•Jul 12, 2019

Thank you Prof. Larry Lagerstrom! This course has been a great experience. Having a background in Banking & Finance, I was not sure to have the proper skills to go through such a complicated topic, which has always fascinated me. The structure of the course is perfect, the explanations are very clear. I appreciated introduction, summaries and handouts, quotes and real life examples. I also find it very effective that the teacher writes on a whiteboard instead than using slides. I would really suggest everyone to take this course. It helps understand, as was mentioned in the course, "the marvellous structure of reality".

By Eric

•Aug 29, 2022

Great course, great teaching. The math required some heavy lifting for a while in the mid part of the course but worth the effort. Definitely glad I did it. If there were an option to donate I would gladly donate $20 for taking this class. Many thanks.

The handouts were essentially blank and useless. Would be great to have the equations written out on the handouts for easy reference and to pull up while taking the quizzes. It definitely would have been helpful to have the equations available for reference during the quizzes - this would have taken some of the guestimating out and helped us learn.

By Lynn C

•Feb 20, 2022

A really excellent course - some difficult concepts ( for me at least) covered with great clarity. It's been many years since I sat in a maths class but Dr Randles Lagerstrom explained each step very clearly . A very good basic couse for anyone wanting to have a deeper understanding of the interesting and strange effects of relativity. Well organised and a lot of effort and time put into making it so enjoyable. It challenges sufficiently to make it interesting and just enough to stop you giving up! Made me want to go further... the course finished too soon - I wanted to learn more!

By ANIKET V

•Mar 8, 2021

This course was my first course on Coursera. It was an amazing course whereby I came to know the underlying principles of the Special Theory of Relativity and understood the nature of Einstein's genius. Professor Larry is perhaps one of the most influential teachers I have come across. His way of teaching is excellent and proficient. This course has not only developed my foundations in the understanding of physics but has also made a profound impact on me. There is no better way to put in words what I have learnt in this course than requoting Einstein's quotation, "Festina Lente".

By Phillip H

•Jun 22, 2020

Excellent class on the Special Theory. The instruction was clear and methodical which made for a good understanding of Einstein's theory. Enjoyed the quotes of the week by Einstein. The phrase "leading clocks lag" is forever stuck in my head and I can recall the Lorentz transformation as well. The analysis of the Twin Paradox 3 ways was especially good, but this came later in the course so that the required tools could be taught first. Included a brief dip into the General Theory. Highly recommended if you have a desire to get an in-depth understanding of the Special Theory.

By Siddharth Y

•Jun 10, 2019

I had just completed my Indian Grade 12 exams and decided that since Special Relativity was something I wanted to learn about, I should go ahead and do it. I chose this course and have no regrets whatsoever. Prof. Larry explains everything in the simplest way possible and avoids complicated mathematics wherever unnecessary. After finishing this course, I have a very good idea of how Special Relativity actually works and it will immensely benefit me given I am planning to major in physics in college. Anyone who is even remotely interested in doing this course, just go for it.

By Gary S

•Nov 2, 2020

Having no physics background other than self-taught, I have to say I was thrilled by this course. It was just the right level, focusing on concepts and being walked through some very consumable math (algebra level). Just the right level of challenge, with support in the forum when questions arise.

The instructor is awesome! Methodical and very cognizant of the fact this is a course for beginners. He walks you through everything step by step.

I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in gaining a more firm understanding of what the Special Theory is all about.

By Jeyan M

•Jul 12, 2021

Amazing course. At first when reading the courses description I thought it would mainly be about Einstein's history. But I gave it a shot. Other than the first week which gave me an introduction to Einstein's life, the next 6 weeks were about his special theory of relativity. The explanations were understandable and the way in which the course was organized was impeccable. One thing I loved about this course is that Professor Larry, would give us an outline of each of his lectures. This made it extremely easy to take down notes and better understand what he was teaching.

By Damien B

•May 4, 2019

I found this course very stimulating in terms of thought experiments and conceptual understanding—a good deal of brain rewiring was necessary! Though I wished the quantitative approach was pushed a little farther (e.g., using matrices for the Lorentz transformations, and getting into Maxwell's equations when it came to the invariance of the speed of light), it was not a prime goal of this course to rely heavily on "advanced" mathematics. Thus, I still think it deserves five stars; I definitely recommend it as an introduction to the special theory relativity! :)

By Richard Q

•Jan 10, 2018

Great introduction course. The teaching skills of Prof. Lagerstrom are really great. I studied a long time ago relativity (special and general) and this refreshing course was in some ways better than the one I had at the University. It does not require any high mathematical skills. I particularly appreciate the historical surrounding of the theory clearly highlighting how ideas and theories grow (not at all as usually explained in school). I do hope Prof Lagerstrom will pursue his teaching with general relativity and/or maybe a course on quantum mechanics.

By Francois L

•Oct 23, 2017

I really enjoyed the quality and pace of this course. The weekly pace was reasonable for someone like me taking this course out of personal interest and doing so after work in the evening. The quality of the video courses was excellent but I understand that this is tied to the individual quality of the professor. Support materials (notes and problem sets) were very helpful to complement the videos. I like the structure of the course and the tool itself which I ran conveniently from my tablet. Overall great experience and looking forward to my next course.

By Sandhra J

•May 6, 2020

Such an amazing course with an exceptional teacher!! I was mind blown with the way such a complicated topic was handled and taught. Einstein is properly explained and his topic of relativity is explained even better. This course has given proper respect to Einstein and has respected his views and thoughts.

The moment I hear 'Einstein', I get Mr. Larry's face onto my mind, that's how amazing and wonderful he as well as this course is. I get the feeling of learning more from him, be it any topic.

Thanks a lot for this fantastic and meticulous experience!!!!

By Sandeep k

•May 1, 2017

feels great, to know about such a renowned personality like Einstein. feeling like i came closer to Einstein and his work, but more than that it i feel closer and connected to the universe. this all has become possible only because of professor Lary Lagerstrom's unique teaching skills and presentation of subjects. myself being from science background found it very easy to get hold of what is actually going, but i'm 100% positive that any person from any background can understand and successfully complete this course. thank you professor.

By Lucas S

•Oct 28, 2020

Before the course I had practically no knowledge on the Special Theory of Relativity and I had just the math from highschool. Now, two months later, I believe I was able to follow everything (Professor Lagerstrom is clear and careful - he takes the time needed to explain things whitout rushing, but also without becoming monotonous); I certainly learned a lot of intriguing stuff and I feel motivated to continue to study Einstein's Special Theory, to work on my math skills and to build the necessary to learn more about the General Theory.

By Antara R

•Jul 23, 2020

Fabulous course. Concepts were explained in rigorous detail and hand-outs and lecture presentations were impeccable. The professor makes sure no stone is unturned in this lecture series and provides insightful analysis into the theory.

Things to improve: I would suggest a shorter course for students like myself who have previous mathematical experience. Additionally it would have been nice to get a printed certificate- after paying £38.

However these things aside- a detailed well-thought through course, ANYONE can complete. 5 stars.

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