8.20 | January IAP 2021 | Undergraduate

Introduction to Special Relativity


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 19 sessions / 4 weeks, 1.5 hours / session


18.01 Single Variable Calculus

8.01 Classical Mechanics

Course Description

This course is an introduction to Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. We will have a couple of lectures to introduce his General Theory as well, but the principal focus will be on special relativity, which we will study in quite a bit of detail. If you have hoped to understand the physics of Lorentz contraction, time dilation, the “twin paradox,” and E=mc2, you’re in the right place.

This course is a 9-unit course given in the four weeks of Independent Activities Period (IAP). A 9-unit course is roughly equivalent to 30 hours a week for four weeks, be prepared to work hard! Problem sets will come upon you quickly. So will the midterms and the final. The course will be defined by the lectures. The reading is also an important part of the course.


This course is taught remotely, using the flipped classroom format. Students watch videos and read the textbook at home. They also look at problems at home to check their understanding. They bring their question to the online class sessions and attempt problems together in the group meeting.

Lectures are organized in short videos discussing specific concepts or methods. Each video is supplemented with slides, text, and a few short questions for your own evaluation. Recitation sessions discuss (Q&A) the content of the lectures, show examples, and discuss homework.


French, Anthony Philip. Special Relativity. 1st ed. W. W. Norton & Company, 1968. ISBN: 9780393097931.

Resnick, Robert. Introduction to Special Relativity. 1st ed. Wiley, 1968. ISBN: 9780471717256.

Tsamparlis, Michael. Special Relativity: An Introduction with 200 Problems and Solutions. Springer, 2010. ISBN: 9783642038365.

Einstein, Albert. Relativity: The Special and the General Theory. Translated by Robert W. Lawson. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press/Random House, 1995. ISBN: 9780517884416. Also available online on the Bartleby website.


Grading will be weighted as follows:

Activities Percentages
Problem sets 50%
Midterm exams 30%
Final exam 20%


This course is organized around the following weeks:

Week 1: Foundations of Special Relativity Problem set 1 posted
Week 2: Spacetime in Special Relativity

Problem set 2 posted

Midterm exam 1

Week 3: Kinematics in Special Relativity

Problem set 3 posted

Midterm exam 2

Problem set 4 posted

Week 4: Beyond Special Relativity Final exam

Course Info

As Taught In
January IAP 2021
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Videos
Problem Sets with Solutions
Exams with Solutions