Thursday, October 25, 2007

G’bye to special relativity

So that about wraps up the special relativity I wanted to cover with you guys. I suppose it’s time we move on to other things. If you survived (and possibly even enjoyed) the problems from the last few weeks, you should be fairly impressed with yourselves. At many universities, the material we covered would be part of a sophomore-level course, so you’re seeing it some two years early. Perhaps you breezed through them, but I’ve found from my own experience that the biggest challenge to working problems like this is just learning not to be intimidated by them. They use new language and deal with very new ideas, and it can be very tempting to give up without actually trying them. Personally, it took me years to learn that lesson, and it wasn’t until midway through my undergrad that I stopped freaking out every time I saw something new in physics. Well, mostly. I still freak out every now and again.

If you really liked special relativity, you might be happy to hear that we really only scratched the surface. There are deeper and more beautiful ideas in relativity, like spacetime structure, covariant and contravariant vectors, relativistic energy and momentum, field transformations, and tensor potentials. So if this stuff really grabbed you—and you’re willing to learn a little more math—you might consider taking a course on relativity in college sometime.

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