Skip Navigation or Skip to Content
Email to a friend
Einstein for Poets: Understanding the Theories of Relativity without Math
Andrew Fraknoi This non-technical, non-mathematical introduction to some of the most bizarre ideas from the work of Albert Einstein is designed for people with little or no science background. We use analogies, thought experiments, examples drawn from everyday life, and a bit of humor to describe Einstein’s revolutionary concepts, how scientists have confirmed them, and what they mean to the average person. You will come away from this course with a new appreciation of the physical world and its behavior under extreme conditions. You’ll also see why Einstein’s ideas continue to fascinate both scientists and science fiction fans. Students will be provided with an overview of Einstein’s ideas, and the way that science (especially astronomy) has confirmed the predictions of his theory. In the process, the students will become acquainted with such notions as the breakdown of simultaneity, E=mc2, anti-matter, black holes, gravitational lenses, gravitational waves (just recently confirmed), and time dilation. We’ll also look at the effect of Einstein’s ideas on science fiction stories and films, as well as on music and other branches of the humanities. Week 1. The Life and Time of Albert Einstein a. Brief biographical overview b. Einstein's views of science and the world c. Relativity before Einstein: Galileo and Newton and Frames of Reference Week 2. The Special Theory of Relativity a. Two Postulates: How it Started b. Time Dilation, Lorentz-Fitzgerald Contraction, the guillotine problem Week 3. The role of mass and energy: E = mc2 a. What is energy and what forms can it take b. Mass and energy in relativity and what E = mc2 really means c. Antimatter and the universe d. Realistic space travel as an illustration of special relativity Week 4. The General Theory of Relativity a. The Principle of Equivalence b. Gravity before Einstein c. The Rubber Sheet and the Ant: Warped Space-time d. Experimental confirmation Week 5. Black Holes a. The Death of Stars b. Black Holes and Event Horizons c. Black Holes in Space (The Real World) d. Time in General Relativity Week 6. Wormholes, Gravitational Lensing, Gravitational Waves and Time Machines a. Wormholes in Science and Fiction b. Seeing Warped Space-time with Hubble Telescope c. Gravitational Waves and their Discovery d. Time Machines in Science and Fiction (for example, the film Interstellar) Andrew Fraknoi is the Chair of the Astronomy Department at Foothill College (retiring in June 2017), and a Senior Educator at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. He served as the Society’s Executive Director (1978-1992) and created several NSF-funded national astronomy education programs for them. He is lead author of “Astronomy,” a free on-line introductory college-level textbook, published by OpenStax. He has been teaching a non-technical course on “Einstein and Modern Physics” for more than 30 years at both Foothill and the University of California Extension. This course will be lecture with visuals and some discussion. Handouts and suggested readings will be provided.
This class is not available at this time.