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STS.042J / 8.225J Einstein, Oppenheimer, Feynman: Physics in the 20th Century

Spring 2006

Collage of Einstein, Oppenheimer, Lawrence, Seaborg, and Feynman.Collage of Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, Glen Seaborg, and Richard Feynman. (Photos clockwise from top right, courtesy of the Library of Congress, the LBNL Image Library, and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.)

Course Highlights

This course features an extensive reading list and a complete set of assignments.

Course Description

This class explores the changing roles of physics and physicists during the 20th century. Topics range from relativity theory and quantum mechanics to high-energy physics and cosmology. The course also examines the development of modern physics within shifting institutional, cultural, and political contexts, such as physics in Imperial Britain, Nazi Germany, U.S. efforts during World War II, and physicists' roles during the Cold War.


*Some translations represent previous versions of courses.





Syllabus

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Description

This class explores the changing roles of physics and physicists during the 20th century. Topics range from relativity theory and quantum mechanics to high-energy physics and cosmology. The course also examines the development of modern physics within shifting institutional, cultural, and political contexts, such as physics in Imperial Britain, Nazi Germany, U.S. efforts during World War II, and physicists' roles during the Cold War.



Subject Requirements

This is a Communications Intensive (CI-M) subject for Course 8 majors. As a CI subject, there will be a heavy emphasis upon writing and oral communication. There will be three papers assigned for a total of 20-24 pages of writing over the course of the semester. The first paper (4-5 pages) will be due in class during Session #7. The second paper (6-7 pages) will be due in class during Session #15. Students will revise and resubmit their second papers, giving them an opportunity to work on specific writing skills before preparing the final paper; the Paper 2 re-writes will be due in class during Session #26. The final paper (10-12 pages) will be due on the final day of class. No late papers will be accepted. There will be an in-class midterm during Session #13.



Required Texts

Amazon logo McCormmach, Russell. Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991. ISBN: 9780674624610.

Amazon logo Frayn, Michael. Copenhagen. New York, NY: Anchor Books, 2000. ISBN: 9780385720793.

Amazon logo Badash, Lawrence. Scientists and the Development of Nuclear Weapons: From Fission to the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1939-1963. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanity Press, 1995. ISBN: 9781573925389.



Grading Policy


ACTIVITIESPERCENTAGES
Paper 120%
Paper 220%
Paper 325%
Mid-term25%
Participation in Class Discussions10%





Calendar


WEEK #TOPICSKEY DATES
I. Introduction and Background
1Course Organization; The Nineteenth-Century Legacy

1. Introductory Lecture
2. Maxwell, Electrodynamics, and Cambridge Wranglers
II. Einstein: Relativity, Quanta, and the Philosopher-Scientist
2The Rise of Theoretical Physics

3. Mechanical and Electrodynamical World Pictures
4. Special Relativity and the Ether
3Philosophy, Experiment, and Special Relativity

5. Einstein and Experiment
4From the Special to the General Theory

6. The Reception of Special Relativity
7. The Origins of General Relativity
Paper 1 due
5First Stirrings of Quantum Theory

8. Rethinking Light
9. Rethinking Matter
6Emergence of Quantum Mechanics

10. Matrices and Uncertainty
11. Waves and Probabilities
7The Contexts of Quanta

12. Quantum Mechanics in Weimar Germany, Interwar U.S.
13. In-class mid-term examination
III. Oppenheimer: Physics, Physicists, and the State
9Shifting Topics and Centers

14. Nuclear Physics in the 1930s; From Europe to America
15. Physics under Hitler: deutsche Physik and the Bomb
Paper 2 due
10The Physicists' War

16. Physics in the U.S.: Radar and the Atomic Bomb
17. Film: The Day After Trinity
11Cold War Physics

18. McCarthyism and the Oppenheimer Hearing
12Bombs and Big Science

19. Film: The Decision to Build the H-Bomb
20. The Rise of Big Science
Paper 2 re-write due
IV. Feynman and Postwar Theory
13Particles and Fields

21. The Conservative Revolution: QED and Renormalization
22. The Challenge to Field Theory
14Standard Models

23. Quarks, Gauge Fields, and the Rise of the Standard Model
24. Big Bang vs. Steady-State Cosmology
15Cosmology and Unification

25. Inflation and Superstrings
26. Course Summary

Paper 3 due





Readings

Amazon logo When you click the Amazon logo to the left of any citation and purchase the book (or other media) from Amazon.com, MIT OpenCourseWare will receive up to 10% of this purchase and any other purchases you make during that visit. This will not increase the cost of your purchase. Links provided are to the US Amazon site, but you can also support OCW through Amazon sites in other regions. Learn more.


Required Texts

Amazon logo McCormmach, Russell. Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991. ISBN: 9780674624610.

Amazon logo Frayn, Michael. Copenhagen. New York, NY: Anchor Books, 2000. ISBN: 9780385720793.

Amazon logo Badash, Lawrence. Scientists and the Development of Nuclear Weapons: From Fission to the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1939-1963. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanity Press, 1995. ISBN: 9781573925389.



Reading Assignments


LEC #TOPICSREADING ASSIGNMENTS
I. Introduction and Background
1Introductory LectureBegin reading McCormmach, Russell. Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist. (To be completed by Lec #3.)
2Maxwell, Electrodynamics, and Cambridge WranglersAmazon logo Maxwell, James Clerk. Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. Vol. 1. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Dover Publications, 1954, pp. v-xii and 155-68.  ISBN: 9780486606361.

Amazon logo Hunt, Bruce J. The Maxwellians. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991, pp. 73-107.  ISBN:  9780801426414.
II. Einstein: Relativity, Quanta, and the Philosopher-Scientist
3Mechanical and Electrodynamical World PicturesFinish reading McCormmach, Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist.
4Special Relativity and the EtherAmazon logo Einstein, Albert. "On the electrodynamics of moving bodies." Translated and reprinted in Miller, Arthur I. Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity: Emergence (1905) and Early Interpretation (1905-1911). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1980, pp. 392-6.  ISBN:  9780201046809.

Galison, Peter, and David Kaiser. "Special relativity primer." 2nd ed. (Unpublished manuscript, 2006 [1998].)
5Einstein and ExperimentAmazon logo Holton, Gerald. "Mach, Einstein, and the search for reality." In Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought: Kepler to Einstein. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Harvard University Press, 1973 [1988], pp. 237-77.  ISBN:  9780674877481.

Galison, Peter. "Einstein's clocks: The place of time." Critical Inquiry 26 (Winter 2000): 355-89.
6The Reception of Special RelativityWarwick, Andrew. "Cambridge mathematics and Cavendish physics: Cunningham, Campbell, and Einstein's relativity, 1905-1911. Part I: The uses of theory." Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 23 (1992): 625-56.
7The Origins of General RelativityAmazon logo Einstein, Albert. "What is the theory of relativity?" In Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions. Edited by Carl Seelig. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 1954, pp. 227-32.  ISBN:  9780756762506.

Kaiser, David. "General relativity primer." 2nd ed. (Unpublished manuscript, 2006 [1998].)

Amazon logo Graham, Loren. "The Reception of Einstein's ideas: Two examples from contrasting political cultures." In Albert Einstein: Historical and Cultural Perspectives. Edited by Gerald Holton and Yehudah Elkana. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992, pp. 107-36.  ISBN:  9780691082998.
8Rethinking LightKuhn, Thomas. "Revisiting Planck." Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 14 (1984): 231-52.

Gordin, Michael, and David Kaiser. Quantum Mechanics Primer. 2nd ed. pp. 1-16. (Unpublished manuscript, 2006 [1998].)
9Rethinking MatterGordin, Michael, and David Kaiser. Quantum Mechanics Primer. pp. 16-32.
10Matrices and UncertaintyAmazon logo Heisenberg, Werner. "Quantum-theoretical re-interpretation of kinematic and mechanical relations." Translated and Reprinted in Sources of Quantum Mechanics. Edited by B. L. van der Waerden. New York, NY: Dover, 1968, pp. 261-6.  ISBN:  9780486618814.

Cassidy, David. "Heisenberg, uncertainty, and the quantum revolution." Scientific American 266 (May 1992): 106-12.

Gordin, Michael, and David Kaiser. Quantum Mechanics Primer. pp. 32-42.
11Waves and ProbabilitiesAmazon logo Bohr, Niels. "The Bohr-Einstein Dialogue." In Niels Bohr: A Centenary Volume. Edited by A. P. French and P. J. Kennedy. Cambridge, UK: Harvard University Press, 1987, pp. 121-40.  ISBN:  9780674624160.

Gordin, Michael, and David Kaiser. Quantum Mechanics Primer. pp. 42-52.
12Quantum Mechanics in Weimar Germany, Interwar U.S.Amazon logo Forman, Paul. "Weimar culture, causality, and quantum theory, 1918-1927: Adaptation by German physicists and mathematicians to a hostile intellectual environment." In Darwin to Einstein: Historical Studies on Science and Belief. Edited by Colin Chant and John Fauvel. New York, NY: Longman, 1980, pp. 267-302.  ISBN:  9780582491564.

Assmus, Alexi. "The Americanization of molecular physics." Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 23 (1992): 1-34.
13In-class Mid-term ExaminationBegin reading Frayn, Michael. Copenhagen. (To be completed by Lec #15.)
III. Oppenheimer: Physics, Physicists, and the State
14Nuclear Physics in the 1930s; From Europe to AmericaKevles, Daniel J. The Physicists: The History of a Scientific Community in Modern America. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Harvard University Press, 1987 [1978], pp. 222-35 and 282-6.
15Physics under Hitler: deutsche Physik and the BombFrank, Charles ed. The Farm Hall Transcripts. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993, pp. 70-91.

Carson, Cathryn. "Placing Frayn's play in the historical tradition." Lecture delivered at the Niels Bohr Archive, 22-23 September 2001.

Frayn, Michael. Copenhagen.
16Physics in the U.S.: Radar and the Atomic BombBadash, Lawrence. Scientists and the Development of Nuclear Weapons. pp. 27-47.

Amazon logo Serber, Robert, and Robert Crease. Peace and War: Reminiscences of a Life on the Frontiers of Science. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1998, pp. 121-44.  ISBN:  9780231105460.
17Film: The Day After Trinity Amazon logo Smyth, Henry DeWolf. Atomic Energy for Military Purposes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990, pp. 206-26.  ISBN:  9780804717229.

Amazon logo Oppenheimer, J. Robert. "Speech to the Association of Los Alamos Scientists, November 2, 1945." In Robert Oppenheimer: Letters and Recollections. Edited by Alice Kimball Smith and Charles Weiner. Cambridge, UK: Harvard University Press, 1981, pp. 315-25.  ISBN:  9780674776067.
18McCarthyism and the Oppenheimer HearingAmazon logo Polenberg, Richard, ed. In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: The Security Clearance Hearing. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001, pp. 94-111.  ISBN:  9780801486616.

Kaiser, David. "The atomic secret in red hands? American suspicions of theoretical physicists during the early Cold War." Representations 90 (2005): 28-60.

Badash, Lawrence. Scientists and the Development of Nuclear Weapons. pp. 63-79 and 102-8.
19Film: The Decision to Build the H-Bomb Amazon logo "The GAC Report of October 30, 1949." Reprinted in Herbert York, The Advisors: Oppenheimer, Teller, and the Superbomb. 2nd ed. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989 [1976], pp. 153-62.  ISBN:  9780804717144.

Amazon logo Bernstein, Jeremy. "The need to know." In Asymptotic Realms of Physics: Essays in Honor of Francis E. Low. Edited by Alan H. Guth, Kerson Huang, and Robert L. Jaffe. Cambridge, UK: MIT Press, 1983, pp. xvii-xxiv. ISBN: 9780262070898.

Badash, Lawrence. Scientists and the Development of Nuclear Weapons. pp. 48-62 and 80-88.
20The Rise of Big ScienceMorrison, Philip. "The laboratory demobilizes." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 2 (Nov 1946): 5-6.

Kaiser, David. "Francis E. Low: Coming of age as a physicist in postwar America." Physics@MIT 14 (2001): 24-31 and 70-7.

———. "The postwar suburbanization of American physics." American Quarterly 56 (2004): 851-888.
IV. Feynman and Postwar Theory
21The Conservative Revolution: QED and RenormalizationAmazon logo Feynman, Richard. QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988, pp. 77-101.  ISBN:  9780691024172.

Kaiser, David. "Physics and Feynman's Diagrams." American Scientist 93 (2005): 156-165.
22The Challenge to Field TheoryAmazon logo Chew, Geoffrey. "Impasse for the elementary-particle concept." In The Sciences Today. Edited by Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler. New York, NY: Arno, 1976 [1974], pp. 366-99.  ISBN:  9780405071713.

Kaiser, David. "Nuclear democracy: Political engagement, pedagogical reform, and particle physics in postwar America." Isis 93 (2002): 229-268.
23Quarks, Gauge Fields, and the Rise of the Standard ModelAmazon logo Fritzsch, Harald. Quarks: The Stuff of Matter. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1989, pp. 47-87 and 123-37.  ISBN:  9780465067848.
24Big Bang vs. Steady-State CosmologyAmazon logo Hoyle, Fred. The Nature of the Universe. New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1955, pp. 133-42.  ISBN:  9780451604095.

Amazon logo Kragh, Helge. "Big Bang cosmology." In Cosmology: Historical, Literary, Philosophical, Religious, and Scientific Perspectives. Edited by Norriss Hetherington. New York, NY: Routledge, 1993, 371-89.  ISBN:  9780815309345.

Amazon logo ———. "Steady state theory." In Cosmology: Historical, Literary, Philosophical, Religious, and Scientific Perspectives. Edited by Norriss Hetherington. New York, NY: Routledge, 1993, pp. 391-404.  ISBN:  9780815309345.
25Inflation and SuperstringsGuth, Alan, and David Kaiser. "Inflationary cosmology: Exploring the universe from the smallest to the largest scales." Science 307 (February 11, 2005): 884-890.

Amazon logo Galison, Peter. "Theory bound and unbound: Superstrings and experiment." In Laws of Nature: Essays on the Philosophical, Scientific, and Historical Dimensions. Edited by Friedel Weinert. Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter, 1995, pp. 369-408.  ISBN:  9783110139181.
26Course Summary




Assignments

Paper Guidelines

Guidelines for Writing Papers (PDF)

Guidelines for Footnotes and Bibliographies (PDF)



Assignments

Paper 1 (PDF)

Paper 2 (PDF)

Paper 3 (PDF)





Exams

This page contains discussion questions designed to get students thinking about the material, and review questions that help prepare them for the midterm.



Discussion Questions



















































Review Questions

The midterm examination will be held in Session #13, in class. The format will be closed-book and closed-notes, with a variety of types of questions, including some terms to identify and some short answer questions. The exam will be comprised of questions based on some of these topics, and will contribute 25% of your final course grade.




  1. t' = γΔt, mean in words? How does the factor γ depend on the ratio (v/c)?







































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