An Illustrated Guide to Relativity

This class is based on the book, An Illustrated Guide to Relativity,
by Tatsu Takeuchi, of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State
University, a delightful book that uses simple space-time diagrams to
visualize and teach the basic features of special relativity. This is
done so well that the material can, in principle, be learned directly
from the figures and annotations without referring to the main text
at all.

Relevant Sections of the textbook:

Online Resources

09. The Concept of Simultaneity

   In physics, the relativity of simultaneity is the concept that
   simultaneity--whether two events occur at the same time--is not
   absolute, but depends on the observer's reference frame.

10. Faster than Light Travel

11. Synchronization of Clocks

12. Time Dilation

Student understanding of time in special relativity: simultaneity
and reference frames

Rachel E. Scherr, Peter S. Shaffer, and Stamatis Vokos
Department of Physics, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

This article reports on an investigation of student understanding
of the concept of time in special relativity. A series of research
tasks are discussed that illustrate, step-by-step, how student
reasoning of fundamental concepts of relativity was probed. The
results indicate that after standard instruction students at all
academic levels have serious difficulties with the relativity of
simultaneity and with the role of observers in inertial reference
frames. Evidence is presented that suggests many students construct
a conceptual framework in which the ideas of absolute simultaneity
and the relativity of simultaneity harmoniously co-exist.



"This investigation has identified widespread difficulties that
students have with the definition of the time of an event and the
role of intelligent observers. After instruction, more than 2/3 of
physics undergraduates and 1/3 of graduate students in physics are
unable to apply the construct of a reference frame in determining
whether or not two events are simultaneous. Many students interpret
the phrase 'relativity of simultaneity' as implying that the
simultaneity of events is determined by an observer on the basis of
the reception of light signals. They often attribute the relativity
of simultaneity to the difference in signal travel time for
different observers. In this way, they reconcile statements of the
relativity of simultaneity with a belief in absolute simultaneity
and fail to confront the startling ideas of special relativity".