Special and General Relativity, and an Introduction to Mathematical Methods in Physics


Physics 225, Spring 2017

Lecture (50 minutes): Loomis 151, Tuesdays at 4 pm

Discussion sections (110 minutes): Thursdays at 9 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 3 pm, and 5 pm in Loomis 64; Fridays at 8 am and 10 am in Loomis 147.

2 credit hours

image by Hansong Zhang

News, announcements, errata

    •  3/13/17: The final exam will be in 314 Altgeld Hall on Tuesday, May 9, 1:30 pm - 4:30 pm. Coverage: entire course.

    •  4/26/17: I will hold a pre-final review session on Monday, May 8, 11:30 am - 1:00 pm in Loomis 136.


    The basics

    It is Einstein's Theory of Relativity that braids space and time into a thread from which the fabric of existence is woven; it is Relativity that forces the existence of magnetism, and the Pauli Principle, and the biochemistry of living things. A Newtonian universe would be sterile.

    In spite of this, there is a fever-dream alienness to Einstein's theory. It is a subject that offers students a first opportunity to see how profoundly different physical reality is from our familiar (and grossly inaccurate) classical picture. This divergence springs inescapably from a single, simple observation: the speed with which a beam of light travels through empty space is exactly 299,792,458 meters per second. It does not matter if the source of light is moving with respect to the measuring apparatus. The speed of light never changes.

    The format of the course comprises weekly meetings in which students work together in small groups (closely supervised by the instructor) to solve a number of simple problems, then to discuss the conclusions one can draw from the results. In this way, students will derive for themselves some of the surprising features of our post-classical reality.

    We will review mathematical techniques as required. Students will be expected to become comfortable using calculus to solve problems as necessary.

    Completion of each of the weekly homework sets will require two or three hours. Grades will be based most strongly on participation in the weekly meetings and performance on problem sets and exams.

    Corequisites: Physics 212 and Math 231.

    Two credit hours.





    Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


    Unless otherwise noted, all material copyright George Gollin, University of Illinois, 2017.

    Image at top of page: Hansong Zhang. Used with permission.