Splash 2017

Splash is a program in which undergraduate students develop and teach short courses to local high school students. I taught a seven-part seminar on various topics in physics. Here are brief descriptions and the slides.

  1. Newton’s Universe: Classical Mechanics
    Newton realized that the force that makes an apple fall from a tree is the same force that makes the moon orbit the Earth. But why doesn’t the moon come crashing down? In this class, we’ll explore how asking questions about space allowed the first physicists to answer questions about the everyday world. We’ll also put Newton’s laws to the test with an interactive lab. Slides here.
  2. Fiat Lux: The Beauty of Electromagnetism
    There’s a single law of physics that keeps chalk on a chalkboard, holds magnets to a fridge, and lets a lamp illuminate the room. How do all these effects tie together? In this class we’ll explore electricity and magnetism, and discover how they are united in light. We’ll then discuss some of the interesting physics of light, including invisibility cloaks. Slides here.
  3. Einstein’s Reality: Space and Time in Modern Physics
    For most of history, it was believed that a single immovable coordinate grid could cover the universe, and that all physics could be described in terms of it. Likewise, it was believed that a single clock could measure the uniform passage of time. Einstein shocked the world by announcing that space and time are inextricably linked. In this class we’ll explore what exactly “spacetime” is, what “relativity” means, and look at some of the most interesting predictions of Einstein’s theory. Slides here.
  4. The Story of the Universe
    In 1964, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson heard a noise in their radio receiver that wouldn’t go away, no matter where they pointed their antenna. They soon realized that they were listening to the beginning of the universe. Penzias and Wilson are now credited with discovering one of the best pieces of evidence for the Big Bang. In this class we’ll look at the modern understanding of the Big Bang and examine the implications of Einstein’s theory of gravity. We’ll finish by discussing theories for how the universe may end. Slides here.
  5. The Quantum World: A New Kind of Physics
    The ultraviolet spectrum of a lightbulb doesn’t quite match up with what classical physics predicts. Starting from this innocent discrepancy, physicists of the early 20th century discovered that our entire conception of reality is mistaken. Particles are waves, waves are particles, and nothing is certain. In this class we’ll examine what it means for a system to be quantized, and look at some of the most striking examples of “quantum weirdness.” Slides here.
  6. Emergent Phenomena: The Physics of Many-Body Systems
    When enough carbon atoms come together, they can form a diamond. Or, if they come together another way, they can form the graphite in your pencil. With a little care, they can be made to form graphene, an exciting new material. In this class, we’ll explore how quantum effects on a small scale can influence the properties of materials on a large scale. Specifically, we’ll look at semiconductors and solar cells, ferromagnets, and superconductors. Slides here.
  7. Einstein’s Dream: The Theory of Everything
    Einstein’s development of the general theory of relativity was one of the most important events in physics in the 20th century. But he desired more; he wanted to unite gravity and electromagnetism into a single theory of nature. Today, we know of two more forces, the strong and weak nuclear forces. Einstein’s theory of relativity describes gravity, and an extension of quantum mechanics called quantum field theory describes the other three. We still don’t know how to unite them into a single physical theory, the so-called “theory of everything.” In this class, we’ll explore the concepts of general relativity and quantum field theory, understand the challenges of bridging them, and see how modern physicists are progressing towards this ultimate triumph. Slides here.