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Introduction To Online Text by Christopher Stubbs

The intellectual heritage of modern physics

Physicists have been trying to figure out the world around them for centuries. Our society has inherited a rich intellectual heritage from this ongoing effort. The accumulated knowledge, the mathematical framework, and the concepts that we have inherited from giants like Galileo, Newton and Einstein are traditionally taught in a roughly historical sequence. It takes most people many years to make the progression from mechanics (forces, masses, and accelerations) to electromagnetism (fields, charges and potentials) to quantum mechanics (propagating waves of probability) to the current research frontier of physics. Most people claw their way to the boundary of modern knowledge only after a few years of graduate study.

interview set

Figure 1: Robert Kirshner during his interview.

The approach pursued here is different. We intend to jump directly to "the new stuff." The goal of this course is to present some of the fascinating topics that are currently being actively studied by today's physics community, at a level that is accessible to an interested high school student, or the high-school-student-at-heart.

The course has three components: i) written material, arranged as units, ii) video segments that present case studies related to the units, and iii) interactive Web modules. The different units can be approached in any desired sequence, but taking the time to explore the video and interactive segments associated with the units you find the most interesting is recommended.

The choice of research subjects presented here is representative, not exhaustive, and is meant to convey the excitement, the mystery, and the human aspects of modern physics. Numerous other threads of modern research could have been included. Hopefully, the topics selected will provide incentive for the reader to pursue other topics of interest, and perhaps it will prove possible to cover a number of these other topics in subsequent versions of the course.