Modern Physics and its Impact

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This course is under review for 2021. Course registration will open to accepted students once courses are confirmed.

Course Description

How has our understanding of the universe and its fundamental laws changed in the last century? From quantum mechanics to Einstein’s theory of relativity, our picture of reality has been radically transformed. Together, we will delve into classical and modern physics, and discuss some of the deepest questions about the way the universe works. We will engage in a variety of hands-on experiments to see first-hand how our understanding of the universe and our place within it have continuously evolved as science advances.

This course is for students who want to learn about physics with a focus on its philosophical implications, rather than its applications to technology. We will start with an introduction to classical physics, as developed by Isaac Newton, and discuss how this picture of a “clockwork universe” influenced enlightenment philosophy. We will then move on to a discussion of the revolution of quantum mechanics, which threw our previous ideas on the nature of reality completely out the window. We will also discuss Einstein’s theory of relativity, which challenges our preconceived notions of space and time. The course will finish with a look at the limits of modern physics, and a discussion of current unsolved problems in natural science such as the origin of the universe and the nature of consciousness. Throughout the course, we will emphasize the basic physical principles, and learn how to approach philosophical problems from a physicist’s perspective.

Classwork and homework will consist of short lectures, group discussions, guided readings, physics problem sets, and hands-on lab experiments. Lectures and problem sets will focus on developing a solid foundation in the basic physics behind each idea we discuss in the course. Hands-on experiments will then deepen our understanding of these ideas by bringing them to life in the lab. Finally, readings and discussions will stimulate us to think about the deeper philosophical implications and how these ideas may apply to physics.

After completing this course, students will be able to explain the fundamentals of Newtonian mechanics, quantum mechanics, and special relativity. They will understand how these theories built off one another, and the rough timeline of their development. Crucially, students will be able to engage in meaningful discussions about how each of these theories has radically transformed humanity’s picture of the universe. This course will prepare students for studying physical science in college and prepare them to be critical thinkers who can have well-reasoned, respectful philosophical discussions throughout their academic careers.

Prerequisites: Students are expected to have completed courses in basic algebra and geometry, but no previous exposure to physics or calculus is necessary. An interest and passion for science and a deep curiosity about the world and its inner workings will be essential for success in this course. Students must also be comfortable having respectful conversations with people with whom they may disagree.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPI0922
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information

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Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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