Place two tennis balls a meter apart in outer space and let them go. Spontaneously, they will move closer and closer together, finally touching each other after about five days. Why do they do this? How does one ball even know the other one is there? Newton said each ball exerts a pulling force. Einstein said each ball “dilates time” in its vicinity. This course tells the story of gravity, with special focus on the theory that has withstood every test for the past hundred years: Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Along the way, we will encounter Descartes’ vortices, gravitational waves, and the puzzle of dark matter.
Recommended book (not required): Ira Mark Egdall, Einstein Relatively Simple: Our Universe in Everyday Language (World Scientific, 2014).
Bill Wootters is a retired professor of physics at
Williams College, with a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin. Most of
his research has been in quantum information theory and the foundations of
quantum mechanics. He has taught two other OLLI courses: "The Speed of
Light" and "Quantum Theory: Still Crazy after All These Years."
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