Everyday Mechanics and Special Relativity: From Earthly Speed to the Speed of Light! - Senior SPARK

This course is expected to run but has not yet been scheduled.

Course Description

Newtonian mechanics and Einstein's theory of Special Relativity is a very exciting and beautiful part of our daily life! Every single day, we see mechanics, experience it, and enjoy it through many cool activities! Every time we shoot an American football, bike, drive, take ride on a roller coaster, or fly in an airplane, we precisely obey the fundamental laws of mechanics without even realizing! In a more accurate and complete sense, Special Relativity is a new understanding of the universe where space-time plays shenanigans to common sense, light can change color just by how you are moving, and mass seems to increase out of nowhere!

What are the underlying principles by which all the aforementioned examples of motion can be described? Where to begin? In this course, we briefly review the most basic physical concepts of motion, namely “time”, “position/displacement”, “velocity” and “acceleration”.

Next, we will explain how these concepts are related to each other. In fact, Sir Isaac Newton developed beautiful equations, by which he could explain the relationships between time, velocity, acceleration, and gravity with regard to the earth. These equations are sufficient to explain any motion on the planet earth! We will apply Newton’s Laws to solve simple problems and conduct exciting hands-on activities in a physics laboratory.

It was not until 1905 that Einstein showed, through Special Relativity, a vastly different world where space-time can be warped, mass can be changed into energy, and simultaneous events are not absolutely simultaneous. Then we will step into Einstein’s shoes, reenacting his “thought experiments” so that we can see how the physics work quite differently than Newton’s picture. We will also distinguish the physical conditions when the old approximation is enough and when Einstein’s new ideas become important.

At the end of the course, students will learn that Newton mechanics, compared to Einstein’s Special Relativity, is only an approximate picture of the world! However, a really great approximation! They will be able to solve simple mechanics problems and describe the motion of the objects. They will also be able to describe what the effects of the Special Relativity are, and when the effects become significant, where Newtonian mechanics falls apart.

Students are expected to know some algebra. There are no science prerequisites for the course. This course provides a good introduction to physics, paving a foundation for high school.

*This Senior SPARK course is designed for students currently in 8th grade (entering 9th grade Fall 2014). Younger students are encouraged to register for our Junior SPARK courses.