031 Relativity and Quantum Mechanics
High school students who have a strong interest in physics. They would need to have taken physics courses and know basic concepts such as force and mechanics and electric and magnetic fields. Some exposure to essential calculus would be helpful too. Students would need to learn algebra, trigonometry, and introductory calculus (i.e., know what a derivative is, what an integral is, and have seen simple differential equations )
Physics was revolutionized in the early 1900s by two groundbreaking advances: relativity, which changed our perceptions of space-time and gravitation, and quantum mechanics, which fundamentally altered the very nature of our questions about the universe. Together, these two pillars of modern science enable us to understand a wide breadth of phenomena, ranging from the tiny nucleus of an atom to the evolution of the universe itself. They have collectively inspired a massive range of technologies - from transistors that powered the computer revolution to GPS satellites that have transformed the way we move worldwide. What are the key reasons why quantum mechanics and relativity are needed? What are the fundamental principles behind these theories? Why did we abandon Newtonian ideas of gravity, leading to Einstein’s radical proposal that gravitation alters the very meaning of space and time? What does this imply about the origin and evolution of our universe? Astonishingly, as successful as these theories are, we know that they are incomplete - physicists are still searching for a view of everything. What are these outstanding questions, and how are we experimentally aiming to answer these questions?
【Sample research topics】
Paradoxes of Special Relativity: Special relativity tells us that the measurement of length and time depends upon the velocity of an observer. This gives rise to several famous paradoxes, such as the Twin Paradox and the Ladder Paradox. The student will learn about these paradoxes and resolve them.
Elementary Quantum Mechanical Systems: The features of many of the most straightforward quantum mechanical systems can be understood without detailed background. In this project, the student will understand the double-slit experiment, the Stern Gerlach apparatus, and the Bohr model of the atom.
The Big Bang Theory: Why is the Big Bang theory necessary? How do we know that it is true? What are the questions that it addresses? What are the unresolved issues that it leads to?
Black Holes: What are black holes? How do we know they exist? Why do they form? What are the open problems that it poses?
Gravitational Lensing: Einstein’s theory of gravity implies that light can be bent by matter. How can we use this to learn about distant objects in our universe? Can we use the Sun’s gravity to image the surface of an alien planet?
Gravitational Waves: Einstein’s theory of gravity predicts the existence of a new kind of wave called a gravitational wave. Why must these exist? What do they do? What can we learn about the universe by detecting them? How might one go about seeing them?