I. Introduction and Background 

Week 1: Introduction and Course Logistics 

  • Session 1: Introductory Lecture 

Week 2: The Nineteenth-Century Legacy 

  • Session 2: Faraday, Thomson, and Maxwell: Lines of Force in the Ether 

Week 3: Electromagnetic Waves and the Ether 

  • Session 3: Worldviews, Wranglers, and the Making of Theoretical Physicists 
  • Session 4: Waves in the Ether  

II. Einstein: Relativity, Quanta, and the Philosopher-Scientist 

Week 4: Philosophy, Experiment, and Special Relativity 

  • Session 5: Einstein and Experiment 
  • Session 6: Reception of Special Relativity 

Week 5: From Relativity to Quantum Theory 

  • Session 7: A Political History of Gravity 
  • Session 8: Rethinking Light 

Key Date: Paper 1 (4–5 pp.) due at end of week 5

Week 6: Early Stirrings of Quantum Theory 

  • Session 9: Rethinking Matter 
  • Session 10: Matrices and Uncertainty 

Week 7: Emergence of Quantum Mechanics 

  • Session 11: Waves and Probabilities 
  • Session 12: Quantum Weirdness: Schrödinger’s Cat, EPR, and Bell’s Theorem  

III. Oppenheimer: Physics, Physicists, and the State 

Week 8: Physics and the State 

  • Session 13: Physics under Hitler 
  • Session 14: Radar and the Manhattan Project 

Key Date: Paper 2 (6–7 pp.) due at end of week 8

Week 9: Wartime Projects 

  • Session 15: Film: The Day after Trinity
  • Session 16: Secrecy and Security in the Nuclear Age 

Week 10: Science, Secrecy, and Legacies of the Nuclear Age 

  • Session 17: Film: Containment 
  • Session 18: Cold War Classroom: Teaching Quantum Theory in Postwar American Physics 

Week 11: Cold War and Counterculture 

  • Session 19: Counterculture and Science 

Key Date: Paper 2 rewrite due at end of week 11 

IV. Feynman and Postwar Theory 

Week 12: Particles and Fields 

  • Session 20: The Conservative Revolution: QED and Renormalization 
  • Session 21: Teaching Feynman’s Tools: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics

Week 13: Thanksgiving break

Week 14: Standard Models 

  • Session 22: Quarks, QCD, and the Rise of the Standard Model 
  • Session 23: The Birth of Particle Cosmology 

Week 15: Cosmology and Unification 

  • Session 24: The Big Bang, Cosmic Inflation, and the Latest Observations
  • Session 25: String Theory and the Multiverse

Key Date: Paper 3 (10–12 pp.) due at end of week 15

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2020
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Lecture Videos
Written Assignments