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

Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, or Special
Relativity for short, came into being in 1905 in a paper with the
unassuming title of "On the electrodynamics of moving bodies." As
the title suggests, Special Relativity is a theory of "moving
bodies," that is: motion. In particular, it is a theory of how
motion is perceived differently by different observers. Since motion
is the process in which an object's location in space changes with
time, any theory of motion is also a theory of space and time.
Therefore, Special Relativity can be said to be a theory of how
space and time are perceived differently by different observers.

The "electrodynamics" part of the paper title refers to the fact
that the theory has something to do with light, which is an
electromagnetic wave. As we will learn in this book, the speed of
light in vacuum, which we will call c, plays a very special role in
the theory of relativity. 

Einstein (1879-1955) was not the first to construct a successful
theory of motion. Building upon pioneering work by Galileo Galilei
(1564-1642), Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) had constructed theories
of motion and gravity which were spelled out in his famous book
Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which is so famous
that when people say the Principia, it is understood that they are
referring to Newton's book. First published in 1687, English
translations and commentaries are still widely available in print.
Newton's theory worked perfectly well for over 200 years (and still
does today in most applications) and succeeded in explaining the
motions of objects both in Heaven (the planets, moons, comets, etc.)
and on Earth (everything you see around you). However, toward the
end of the nineteenth century, a certain mystery was discovered
concerning the speed of light which could not be understood within
the Galilei-Newton theory. The theory that provided a clear and
illuminating resolution to the mystery, and became the theory to
supersede that of Galilei-Newton, was Einstein's Special Theory of

Review Intertial Frames

Review Time Dilation

Lorentz Contraction
   See diagram on page 143

Review of Cosmic Muon

Reviw of Faster than Light Travel

The Enterprise and the Supernova

The Mechanical Universe - 42 - The Lorentz Transformation
29:07 minute Video

If the speed of light is to be the same for all observers, then
the length of a meter stick, or the rate of a ticking clock,
depends on who measures it. This series helps teachers demystify
physics by showing students what it looks like. Field trips to
hot-air balloon events, symphony concerts, bicycle shops, and
other locales make complex concepts more accessible. Inventive
computer graphics illustrate abstract concepts such as time,
force, and capacitance, while historical reenactments of the
studies of Newton, Leibniz, Maxwell, and others trace the
evolution of theories.