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Space-time and the Quantum World

Fall 2022

"We should take comfort in two conjoined features of nature: first, that our world is incredibly strange and therefore supremely fascinating. . . second, that however bizarre and arcane our world might be, nature remains comprehensible to the human mind." - Stephen Jay Gould

"... until at last it came to me that time was suspect!" - A. Einstein (Shankland interview 1950)

"... I’m a professional theoretical physicist and I would like to make a clean theory. And when I look at Quantum Mechanics I that it’s a dirty theory.” -J. Bell (in "The Ghost in the Atom" editied by Davies and Brown)

"... be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing." - T. Huxley (letter to Kingsley 23 Sept. 1860)

"... the concept of time is nothing more than a convenient, although potentially treacherous, device for summarizing compactly all the relationships holding between clocks." - N. D. Mermin It's About Time, pg. 63

"Quantum mechanics is magic." - Daniel M. Greenberger

“If quantum mechanics isn’t bothering you, you aren’t thinking hard enough.”
-Amy Lytle (3 November 2008)

Instructor: Seth Major, smajor, x4919, Sci G052

Office Hours:
After each class and Thursdays 1:30 - 5:00 PM.

Lectures: Monday and Wednesday 1:00-2:15 AM in Sci Ctr 3021
Texts: Mermin, It's About Time
  Styer, The Strange World of Quantum Mechanics



Thanks for a great semester!

Course Info and Documents (pdf):

Course Syllabus
Questions from lecture (now with answers!)
Relations for the final

Guides (pdf):


Links for exploring:

These are identifed by topic: "SR" means special relativity, "GR" means general relativity, and "QM" means on the quantum world.


  • GR: A NASA visualization of an accretion disk around a black hole.
  • GR: A wired article about the stunning visualizations of black holes in Interstellar. The visualization work was published in 2015. The video abstract is worth a view.
  • GR: A Hubble space telescope image of Abell 2218.
  • GR: Andrew Hamilton's amazing videos on black holes.
  • SR: Cosmic ray showers from the Pierre Auger Observatory
  • SR: A page in the Discovery of Fusion (hosted by AIP) that includes an audio clip (!) of Einstein's discussing E=mc^2. Explore these pages some more for quotes from Frisch, Bohr and many others.
  • SR: Nova's homepage for "Einstein's Big Idea" or the relation E=mc^2
  • The article (pdf) by Weisskopf on seeing a relativistically moving object.
  • SR: Beautiful animations of the apparent geometry of relativistic moving objects. The dice and the ride down Marktgasse in Tuebingen are particularly good. Note, however, that redshift is not accounted for.
  • SR: Pictures of Berne's Clock Tower in early 1900's and 2005
  • SR: The homepage for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey database (example spectrum and example 2)
  • SR: Dan Styer has also written an introductory text on special relativity, Relativity for the Questioning Mind. (clicking opens a new window) The light clock discussion begins on page 24.
  • SR: From the United States Naval Observatory, the UTC reference time.
  • SR: Visualizations of the full set of SR effects.
  • SR: Real time Relativity - software for simulations of near light speed travel.
  • SR: The electromagnetic spectrum. An old video on the electromagnetic spectrum primarily for children.
  • SR: From the course in 2008 a version of the length contraction derivation (pdf)
  • SR: For a little more on Ole Roemer's determination of the speed of light see the wikipedia article.
  • SR: Simple animations on special relativity at NYU.
  • SR: An extensive summary of papers on experimental verification of special relativity.
  • SR: A qualitative, simulation of the Michelson-Morley experiment, and a video of the experiment.
  • A video with a description of the Hamilton speed of light experiment.
  • SR: On Wikipedia, a quote of the "Galileo's ship" passage from Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems
  • SR: A translation of "Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies", Einstein's original 1905 paper on special relativity. Here's a pdf (1.9 MB) of the original article in German pubished in Annalen der Physik.
  • SR: Here's the cell-pop-corn video. When did the first kernel pop?
  • SR: A video highlighting the use reference frames in the Olympic coverage of the men's 200 meter event. See also the race at the London 2012 games.

Quantum World

  • QM: Here's the tale referred to on Guide 7.
  • QM: The Phet wave interference simulator.
  • QM: The video of an interference experiment done at Hitachi by Tonomura Here's a link to a Hitachi website with an explanation of the experiment. The history of this experiment (one of the "top 10 beautiful experiments" as determined by readers of Physics World) shows the complicated nature of determining "who is first".
  • QM: There is a lecture which is listed on this page (content starts at 3:00 in the video) by Rob Spekkens on Quantum Foundations at the Quantum to Cosmos Festival (Perimeter Institute 2009). I highly recommend it!
  • QM: The Quantum Cakes of Hardy and Kwiat can be found in American Journal of Physics. Or this (pdf).
  • QM: David Mermin wrote an article with a version of the switching Stern-Gerlack experiment. I quoted from this in our `EPR day' class
  • QM: Dan Styer maintains a website with extra notes on his book. Lucien Hardy's experiment has been performed. Dan has a summary. Here's the link to the page with the new problem for chapter 10.
  • QM: The original EPR paper.
  • QM: A paper (pdf) on the history of the Stern-Gerlach experiment.
  • QM: The BBC recorded a lecture in 1964 of Richard Feynman discussing quantum theory using the double slit experiment. It shows its age but you might like to take a look.


  • SR: An online exhibit on Einstein hosted by American Insitute of Physics.
  • SR: The Wikipedia bio on Mileva Maric including commentary and, even better, an extensive list of references on the on her possible role in the development of special relativity.
  • SR: AIP has a page devoted to Michelson. The original paper is posted on the page.
  • QM: Scroll down in this "Physical[Physics] Tourist in Frankfurt" page on Backreaction for pictures of the building where Stern and Gerlach worked.
  • From Heisenberg's son, a web page on his father, in reaction to Frayn's play Copenhagen.

Additional Reading

  • SR: Dan Styer, Relativity for the Questioning Mind
  • SR and Einstein: Dennis Overbye, Einstein in Love (A ``1st half" biography of Einstein. It ends in 1915.)
  • SR and Einstein: Abraham Pais, Subtle is the Lord (A full biography of Einstein that has a careful treatment of the science.)
  • QM: Louisa Gilder, The Age of Entanglement

Last modified 4 January 2023
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