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PHYS 350: Modern Physics Lecture 1, January 9, 2007

✦ Not really: Physics from 1900 to 1950
✦ Major breakthroughs: Relativity Theory (Poincare, Einstein,
Minkowski) and Quantum Mechanics (Heisenberg, Schroedinger,
Debye, Dirac)
✦ Before 1900, things seemed fine: Newton’s law of motion,
electrodynamics and thermodynamics worked well

But, great scientists can be wrong too ...

A.A. Michelson: ``The underlying principles have been firmly
established . . . the future truths of physics are to be looked for in
the sixth place of decimals.’’

Misconception, errors possible?

Problem with common sense, the
way we grew up and daily life...
✦ Human time scales: 0.1 s (reaction time) ... 75 years (grandpa’s
✦ Our length scales: 1/500th inch (thickness of hair) ... 3000 Miles
(New York-Seattle)
✦ Our velocity scales: 3 Miles/hour (pedestrian), 600 Miles/hour

No experience or intuition with:

✦ Huge velocities (light: 186,000 Mi/s) : Relativity
✦ Tiny sizes (proton: 0.000001 nm) : Quantum physics
✦ Huge times (earth: 4.56 Billion years) : Evolution, Geology

We cannot ``understand’’ electrons and atoms

based on experience with moving tennis balls
Why bother?

✦ Foundations of astronomy, chemistry, material science and

modern electronics and technology
✦ Why are atoms stable? Why does copper conduct current but
not glass?
✦ But: behavior at huge speeds and/or at tiny scales is very different
from our expectations: Most people still think in terms of 19th
century physics (which is ok on ``our’’ scales)
✦ Even experts are often uncomfortable about the implications/
interpretations of the ``new’’ theories
✦ But, theories have been confirmed at extremely high precision by
many different experiments
✦ Concepts an be quite mysterious and difficult: Beware of pseudo
science such as movie ``What the $#&* do we know ?’’

Goal and style of the lecture
✦ Familiarize you with the discoveries, classic experiments and
historic developments which led to the physics of the modern
era - relativity and quantum physics
✦ Using analogies, pictures and movies I’ll try to get to the core of
the weird behavior at large speeds and of tiny objects
✦ Give you some idea how new concepts and ideas are born
✦ After the class you should be able to perform simple calculations
such as how much younger than your twin brother can you get
by cruising around in fast space ships
✦ You will know how to measure the speed of light, the charge and
mass of an electron, the size of a distant star etc.
✦ Math is inevitable, for instance we will derive some simple
solutions of Schroedinger’s equation (a partial differential
equation) but it will be as simple as possible if new concepts are

Einstein’s Relativity Theory

Special relativity (1905):

Comparison of measurements made in different frames of
reference moving with constant velocity to each other.

General relativity (1915/16): Accelerated reference frames

and gravity. Great importance in cosmology and in vicinity of
very large mass (stars, black holes).

Toughest problem in current physics:

General relativity is incompatible with quantum mechanics:
Trouble if huge masses are concentrated in tiny spaces
Special relativity is based on two simple principles:

1.) Principle of relativity:

The laws of physics are the same in all inertial reference
2.) Principle of invariance of the speed of light:
The speed of light in vacuum is equal to the value
c, independent on the motion of the source.

c=299,792,458 m/s
=186,282.397 miles/s

Inertial frame:
★ A frame in which Newton’s laws are valid
★ Any frame moving with constant speed relative to an
inertial frame is also an inertial frame

Reminder: Newtons laws

➡ 1. If no force acts on a body, the body’s velocity cannot

change (law of inertia)
➡ 2. The net force on a body F causes acceleration as
➡ 3. When two bodies interact, the force on the bodies
from each other are always equal in magnitude and
opposite in direction

Don’t hold in all reference frames, eg. rotating/

accelerating frames

If both postulates are assumed to be true, many unexpected
things will happen ...

Downtown Tuebingen, v=0 Running at v=0.8 c

Closer to the speed of light: v=0.95 c

View from space ship trying to land on
main plaza of Tuebingen at v=0.99 c

Everything in special relativity can be quantitatively
derived from the two principles by ``thought
(assuming the new laws reduce smoothly to the old ones
at small speeds v<<c)

One consequence:
Newton’s second law is just a low speed approximation.

So far assumed that mass m is constant, but it depends

on speed v:

dp d
F = = (mv)
dt dt
m= !
1 − c2
c=cosmic speed limit !
The principle of relativity (old and familiar)

By observing the motion of objects in a closed room
there is no way to tell if the room is at rest or in a boat
moving at steady speed in a fixed direction.

Sitting in a train at the station and watching
another ``moving`` train.

Does my train move or is the other train


The principle of relativity continued...

Newtonian principle of relativity:

Newton’s laws of mechanics are the same in a uniformly
moving room as they are at rest.

Einstein’s generalization:
All physical laws (including newly developed
electrodynamics) are the same in such uniformly moving

Note 1: This principle does not mean that the

observations made in different frames are the same. It is
only the equations which are the same!

Note 2: There is no ``preferred’’ rest frame. If the laws of

physics would depend on the frame you could use them
to distinguish between frames.
The invariance of the speed of light
Very unfamiliar and counter-intuitive:
Not true for a wave in water: speed relative to observer depends
on how fast observer is moving with respect to the water (surfing!)

Throwing a bottle at speed v=10 m/s out of

a plane flying at u=40 m/s:
Hikers at bottom observe bottle with
v+u=50 m/s horizontal speed.

Sending a light beam with v=c from plane.
Hikers observe beam with velocity c and
not c+u!

Intuitive addition of velocities doesn’t work at speeds

close to speed of light c!
What is meant by ``intuitive”?
The Galilean transformation between inertial frames S and S’

x! = x − vt, y ! = y, z ! = z, t! = t
u!x = ux − v, u!y = uy , u!z = uz
dx! dx
Integrate using u!x = , ux = etc.
dt dt
What inspired Einstein to set up these principles ?
How did classic physics break down ?
Newton’s (original) law and Galilean
No problem, F=m*a is Galilean invariant:
acceleration : ax =
transformation : u!x = ux − v
! du x dux
new acceleration : ax = ! = = ax
dt dt
! !
Force law invariant : Fx = max = max =F
Maxwell equations and Galilean
‣ Result in a speed of light independent on observer, i.e. agree with
Einstein’s second principle, but:
‣ They are NOT Galilean invariant !

Wire with charge density w and point charge q

Wire and charge at rest in S frame: Electric field gives force on charge q
Observer in S’ frame sees both q and the charges in the wire move with
in -x’ direction: additional magnetic field leading to additional Lorentz-
force on moved charge q
Total electromagnetic force is NOT the same in the two frames!
Concept of having two separate fields, electric and magnet field, not ok.
Possible solutions
‣ Can Maxwell’s equation (from 1860) be wrong ? No: contradicts
experiments since corrected equations predict strange new
electromagnetic phenomena
‣ Galilean transformation applies to mechanics but electromagnetism
has a preferred frame: the frame in which the luminiferous ether is at
rest. In contradiction to Michelson-Morley experiment.
‣ Einstein: Forget about Galilean transformation at all, even for
mechanics. Just take a new transformation, the Lorentz-
‣ Problem:How to change mechanics that it fits with the new
transformation and is still compatible with our daily live experience?
Transformations were discovered by Lorentz by playing around with
Maxwell’s equations, but let’s derive them from the two Einstein-
principles !
Einstein at age 16: Can you catch a beam of light by flying at
the speed of light? Can light be stationary, i.e. has v’=0 ??
Graphical representations: The light cone
Event: position (x,y,z) and time t

Four-dimensional space, Minkowski-space: (t,x,y,z)

Measuring the speed of light
1849 Fizeau experiment (not very precise)

‣ Beam of light aimed at mirror through gap between two teeth

of a wheel
‣ Light pulse takes 2L/c seconds from wheel back to wheel
‣ If rotation of wheel moved a tooth into light path: observer
could see no light