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Understanding Einstein: The Special Theory of Relativity

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About this course

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!).
 

Who is this class for

This course is open to anyone willing to put in some time and effort to understand Einstein and his special theory of relativity. Although it will help you to have a basic understanding of algebra, much of the analysis is qualitative or only semi-quantitative. In addition, a math review video lecture is provided at the beginning of the course.
 
FAQ: 
  • 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."
Instructor(s): 
Larry Randles Lagerstrom
Understanding Einstein

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