HPS 0410 Einstein for Everyone Fall 2008

Back to main course page

Monday/ Wednesday 12:00 noon - 12:50pm, CL 324

(Register for one.)
Monday 5-5:50pm, CL 202
Tuesday 12-12:50pm, CL 130
Tuesday 2-2:50pm, CL 151
Wednesday 10-10:50pm, CL 149
Jeremy Butterfield, 412 624 5889, jnb22@pitt.edu
Room 1017CL, Office hours: Monday 1-2 pm, Wednesday 1-2 pm.

John D. Norton, 412-624-1051, jdnorton@pitt.edu
Room 817 CL. Office hours: Monday 1-2 pm, Wednesday 1-2 pm.

Elay Shech, 412-624-7599, elay.shech@gmail.com
Room 901H CL. Office hours: Monday 4-5 pm, Tuesday 1-2 pm.
Course website
Course materials will be posted at the course website
Click here http://www.pitt.edu/~jdnorton/teaching/HPS_0410
We will communicate grades through the Blackboard website at
These websites will be the primary means of obtaining course material. To take this course, you must have access the internet.
Special relativity: The two postulates and their strange consequences: rods and clocks run amuck. The light barrier. Relativity of simultaneity: the confusion of when and where and the puzzles it solves. Spacetime: time as the fourth dimension. Origins of special relativity: how did Einstein do it?. Puzzles and paradoxes. The most famous equation: E=mc2. The philosophical dividend.
General relativity: Straightening out Euclid. Acceleration provides the clue: gravitation is just spacetime bent. General relativity passes the tests. Applications of general relativity: Goedel universes and the like: could we take a journey into the past? Cosmology: the biggest picture possible; a beginning and end for time? Black holes: when the fabric of spacetime collapses.
Quantum theory: The puzzle of black body radiation: light comes in lumps. The Bohr atom: where electrons jump. The perversity of matter in the small: both particle and wave. The uncertainty principle. The failure of determinism. The puzzle of Schrödinger's cat: neither alive nor dead.
Short tests
There will be 6 short in-class test, roughly one each two weeks. (Schedule) The grade is the best 5 of 6.
An assignment is due each week in the recitation. The grade is the best 11 of 15.
Term paper
The term paper is by electronic submission on the day of the final lecture, Wednesday December 3.
Short Test
The short tests will examine material covered roughly in the preceding two weeks. They will be held in the first 15 minutes of class and consist of a series of 3-4 related questions requiring a few sentences each as answers.
Policy on Missed Tests and Late Assignments
   No make up tests will be offered. Since the test grade is the best 5 of 6, one missed test is automatically forgiven. It is strongly recommended that this one forgiven test be used only when illness or emergencies preclude class attendance.
   Assignments are due each week at the start of the recitation. Late assignments are not accepted. Since the assignment grade is the best 11 of 15, four missed assignments are automatically forgiven. It is strongly recommended that these forgiven assignments be used only when illness or emergencies preclude class attendance.
(An exception is made for students who add the course after the start of term. Assignments due prior to the date on which the class was added may be submitted at the next scheduled recitation and no later than the recitation in which you are registered, Monday Sept. 8/Tuesday Sept. 9, Wednesday Sept. 10.)
   For added flexibility, a universal makeup assignment is offered to all students. The makeup assignment is a second term paper conforming to the term paper guidelines, but only 500 words in length, due on the day of the last lecture, Wednesday December 3.
What do I do if a university break cancels a recitation in which an assignment is due?
Scheduled university breaks lead to the canceling of recitations on Mon. Sep. 1, Tues. Oct. 14 and Wed. Nov. 26. Assignments due in these cancelled recitations may be submitted to the recitation instructor at the beginning of the lecture that immediately follows the cancelled recitation.
The primary text for the class is available on this website as the online text Einstein for Everyone.
Supplementary readings are:
J. Schwartz and M. McGuinness, Einstein for Beginners. New York: Pantheon.
J. P. McEvoy and O. Zarate, Introducing Stephen Hawking. Totem.
J. P. McEvoy, Introducing Quantum Theory. Totem.
Special Needs
If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and Disability Resources and Services, 216 William Pitt Union, 412-648-7890 or 412-383-7355 (TTY) as early as possible in the term. For more information, see http://www.drs.pitt.edu/

Last update: August 23, 2008.