This course will introduce you to some of the amazing, but often puzzling ideas of "modern physics," and show how our discovery and understanding of these ideas leads directly to many of the devices and technologies we encounter in our world today. We will start by becoming familiar with some of the basic themes of all of physics, such as motion, forces, and energy. Once we understand these concepts, we will tackle the theories of relativity and quantum physics, theories which revolutionized our understanding of the physical universe in the early part of the last century. We will compare the predictions of these theories to those of "classical" physics, and look at the experimental evidence which could not be explained using older models. Finally, we will spend much of the semester seeing how these new ideas, once considered purely abstract and mathematical, are now being applied in areas such as medical imaging, carbon dating, lasers, DVD's, communications devices, and the whole "technology revolution" of computers and the microchip.
My goal for the course, though, is not just to teach you some physics. I hope that through your reading and our discussions, you will also come to appreciate the power of the scientific method. Science advances not by just making up crazy ideas, but usually because somebody measures something or tests something, and we don't understand it! It doesn't fit in neatly with our current picture of how the world works, and so we must come up with more clever theories that explain all the old measurements, plus the new one. Thus, one step at a time, our understanding advances as we explain one more piece of the puzzle of nature. I hope that through this course you will discover for yourself how this process has worked in the past, and continues to help us unravel new mysteries. Along the way, you will also see that scientific advances don't just occur; they are made by people, individuals who either performed clever experiments or developed new ways to think about the results. These are some of the ways that I hope the class will give you a new and deeper appreciation for how science works.
The course assumes knowledge of high school algebra, but does not require trigonometry or calculus. You should know how to use e-mail and access the World Wide Web. Weekly homework sets, consisting of multiple choice and short-answer problems, will emphasize concepts and understanding, rather than problem-solving skills. There will be three exams.