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Effective: Summer 2013

Grade Type: Letter Grade, the student may select Pass/No Pass
Not Repeatable.
FHGE: Non-GE Transferable: CSU/UC
5 hours lecture. (60 hours total per quarter)

Student Learning Outcomes -
  • 1. Students will understand their objectives for taking this course 2. Students will, when the course is over, reflect on how well the course met their objectives
  • Students will demonstrate an understanding of how Einstein's theories of relativity changed our understanding (through measurables) of space, time, and mass.
Description -
Non-mathematical introduction to the ideas of modern physics intended for majors in the physical sciences. Introduction to the history and ideas of physics focus on three areas of modern physics, thermodynamics and the concept of entropy, Einstein's special and general theories of relativity, and quantum mechanics. The key ideas in these areas are explained using demonstrations, analogies, and examples drawn, whenever possible, from the student's own experience. Examine the impact these physics ideas have had on other fields, such as poetry, literature and music. No background in science or math is assumed.

Course Objectives -
The student will be able to:
  1. demonstrate an understanding of the scientific method,
  2. describe the basic ideas of classical Newtonian physics, including Newton's three laws and Newton's law of gravity,
  3. discuss the three topics which are the focus of the course (thermodynamics, relativity, and quantum mechanics) in descriptive terms, and explain why they represent a change from our classical understanding,
  4. give examples of the influences these ideas have had on other areas of human thought,
  5. show an understanding of the contributions made to physics by Albert Einstein.
Special Facilities and/or Equipment -
A lecture hall with good audio-visual facilities, a large table with electrical connections, and lights which can be darkened. Physics demonstration equipment, such as an electroscope, projectable wave table for demonstrating interference, spectrum tubes, gratings, etc.

Course Content (Body of knowledge) -
  1. Introduction to Science and the Cosmos
    1. The nature of science and the scientific method
    2. A Grand Tour of the Physical Universe
    3. Forces in the Universe
    4. Matter and Energy
  2. Classical Physics
    1. The beginnings of physics--Galileo and the experimental method
    2. Newton's Laws: The Constitution of the Universe
    3. Work, Energy, Power
    4. Classical Gravitation
  3. Thermodynamics and Entropy
    1. Heat and Temperature
    2. The Laws of Thermodynamics
    3. Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics
    4. The Arrow of Time and the Ultimate Fate of the Universe
    5. Reflections in Literature
  4. The Life and Time of Albert Einstein
    1. Brief biographical overview
    2. Einstein's views of science and the world
  5. The Special Theory of Relativity
    1. Time Dilation, Lorentz-Fitzgerals Contraction, and the Guillotine Problem
    2. The role of mass and energy
    3. Space Travel as an Illustration of Special Relativity Theory
  6. The General Theory of Relativity
    1. The "warping" of space-time
    2. Black Holes
    3. Time Machines in Science: Using General Relativity
    4. Cosmology and General Relativity (covered only briefly)
  7. Einstein, Relativity and the Rest of Human Culture
    1. Images of Einstein in popular culture and the public view of scientist
    2. Relativity in fiction
  8. Quantum Mechanics
    1. The nature of light--a historical development: waves versus particles
    2. The nature of matter--waves versus particles
    3. The uncertainty principle and its implications
    4. Probabilistic interpretations of nature: Does God Play Dice with the Universe?
    5. The Many-Worlds Interpretation (briefly)
    6. Quantum Mechanics in Literature
  9. Recent Developments
    1. Stephen Hawking and his work combining relativity and quantum mechanics
    2. Quantum black holes
Methods of Evaluation -
  1. Objective type examinations: quizzes, a midterm, a final.
  2. Term paper may or may not be required.
Representative Text(s) -
Parker, Barry Einstein's Brainchild.. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000.
Priwer, Shana & Phillips, Cynthia: The Everything Einstein Book. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2003.
Spielberg, N. & B. Anderson. Seven Ideas That Shook The Universe. MJF Books 2004.
Articles and web readings to bring information up to date

Disciplines -
Method of Instruction -
Lecture, discussion, and small group cooperative activities.
Lab Content -
Not applicable.
Types and/or Examples of Required Reading, Writing and Outside of Class Assignments -
  1. Reading in the required texts about the history of physics ideas and the key concepts in modern physics.
  2. Assignments include reading the required texts, update handouts, and some fiction inspired by the science students are studying.