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The Tiniest Bits of Reality

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Course DatesWeeksMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRN
July 13, 2015 - July 24, 20152M-F 12:15-3:05POpenAntun Skanata10027

Course Description

Why is the Higgs boson so important? Why does Leon Lederman, a Nobel laureate, call it “the God particle”? And what does it have to do with the world we live in: light, electricity, nuclear power, atoms, and molecules? In order to answer these questions, we will have to take a journey back in time, to the universe as it was when it was forming. Along the way, we will make several stops in order to meet physicists and philosophers who were ahead of their time, guessing about the structure of the world in unimaginable detail. They will tell us more about the tiniest bits of reality, elementary particles. We will show that their interpretations made so many years ago do not differ a lot from modern knowledge.

At its beginning, the universe was a hot dense soup consisting of various particles and antiparticles. Modern particle physics research institutes use higher and higher energies in order to reconstruct the conditions as they were right after the Big Bang. The topics covered in the course include the discoveries of atoms, nuclei, protons, and neutrons, as well as the investigation of even smaller particles. This course starts with Greek philosophers and evolves towards the new era of physics, marked by the Large Hadron Collider, the most amazing machine man has ever built. After introducing particles and their interactions, we’ll be able to cover selected topics and applications of particle physics, such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET scan), an example of a precise diagnostic tool that uses antimatter. One of the things we will show is that the latter, as fictional as it may seem, really exists, and its applications can be found in real-life situations.

As public interest in the Large Hadron Collider has been increasing over the last couple of years, this two-week course is intended to provide students with a basic understanding of the aspects and ideas of high energy physics and their deep implications in the structure of matter, where quantum effects are strong and the world is a much more organized place. The topics are selected from basic college-level physics textbooks, including Griffiths: “Introduction to Particle Physics,” Feynman, Leighton, Sands: “The Feynman Lectures on Physics,” and even some popular books, for example Lederman: “The God Particle.”

The main objective of this course is to teach physics in a non-mathematical way. Students should be familiar with basic concepts in physics. At least one year of general physics education is required. Classes will be interactive, with in-class demos, hands-on experiments, discussions, and video material. Students will be evaluated throughout the 2-week period via homework assignments, blackboard problem solving, group problem solving, plus periodic 3-minute student presentations and a final presentation.

The Prerequisite for this course is one year of general physics education.