HPS 1632 Einstein for Almost Everyone
Fall term 2019

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Instructor: John D. Norton, 1109B CL, 4-5878,
jdnorton@pitt.edu, http://www.pitt.edu/~jdnorton
Office hours: Thursday 3:30pm - 4:30pm and by appointment.

When: Thursday 1:00pm - 3:30pm.

Where: Cathedral of Learning, Room 116 ("Italian Room")

About:  Everyone knows that what Einstein did in physics had profound consequences for 20th century physics and more. But how much do you really know of "what Einstein did"? If you want to find out the details and aren't afraid of a few technical ideas, this course is for you. It is an introductory survey of Einstein’s contributions to physics. Material suitable for the survey will include the works of his annus mirabilis of 1905: special relativity, Brownian motion and the light quantum; a briefer contact with his work in general relativity and cosmology; and his now celebrated critique of quantum theory. The amount of material covered and the level of coverage will depend upon the expertise of the students in the class. The plan is to make contact with the technical details of Einstein's work and, to this end, Math 220 is a prerequisite.

Structure: The content of the course will be divided into modules described here. Each covers one portion of Einstein's work. We will try to identify three elements in each module, as befits a class in a Department of History and Philosophy of science: the science of Einstein's contribution, elements of its history and philosophical issues raised by the work.

About the Instructor: John D. Norton has been studying Einstein since 1980 and is an internationally recognized scholar of Einstein's work. He has edited for the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein and serves on their advisory board. His early work provided the first analysis of Einstein "Zurich Notebook" in which Einstein carried out the calculations at a crucial period in his discovery of general relativity. Later work includes investigation of Einstein's work on special relativity, Brownian motion and the quantum.

What you will be doing

Attendance: Please come to class each week, having done the assigned readings and prepared to engage in discussion.

Reading Assignments here: To assist you in the readings and preparing for class discussion, the readings will be accompanied by short assignments. They are to submitted at the start of each class. Since we will be discussing their content in class, late assignments will not be accepted. To accommodate life's little adversities, three missed assignments will be forgiven automatically.

Interpretive Assignment here: At the conclusion of each module, an interpretive assignment will ask you to work in more detail on some aspect of the material covered in the module.
Added October 18, 2019: There are three interpretive assignments. The grade awarded will be the best two grades of the three.

Term Paper: A term paper is due Friday December 6. A preview of the topic chosen is due Thursday November 14. For more details, see Term Paper.


Reading assignment 33%

Interpretive assignments 33%
Term paper 33%


Albert Einstein et al. The Principle of Relativity. Dover.

John Stachel, Einstein’s Miraculous Year: Five Papers That Changed the Face of Physics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998.

Tai-Pei Cheng Einstein’s Physics Atoms, Quanta, and Relativity. Derived Explained, and Appraised. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

For more, see Einstein Resources.

Disability Resources and Services.

If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and Disability Resources and Services, 140 William Pitt Union, 412-648-7890 as early as possible in the term. For more, see http://www.studentaffairs.pitt.edu/drs/

University’s Academic Integrity Policy on cheating/plagiarism.

Cheating/plagiarism will not be tolerated. Students suspected of violating the University of Pittsburgh Policy on Academic Integrity, from the February 1974 Senate Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom reported to the Senate Council, will be required to participate in the outlined procedural process as initiated by the instructor. A minimum sanction of a zero score for the quiz or exam will be imposed.
View the complete policy at http://www.cfo.pitt.edu/policies/policy/02/02-03-02.html.