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Physics for Poets

Andrew Fraknoi


This spring quarter, Foothill College will again offer Physics for Poets, the course that won the Innovation of the Year award for community colleges. This is the first time that Andrew Fraknoi’s Physics 12 course (sometimes affectionately called “Everything You’ve Wanted to Know about Einstein but Were Afraid to Ask”) is being presented in Foothill’s newly refurbished lecture hall 5015 (with its superb new audio-visual facilities.)

Although Albert Einstein died in 1955, his work continues to capture the imagination of scientists and the public. In the last few years, astronomers have found new confirmation of some of Einstein’s most bizarre ideas – including giant black holes, time itself slowing down under the right circumstances, and gravity acting like the distorting mirrors of an amusement park. In February 2010, the most accurate measurement of the slowing of time ever made was announced by a team that included the U.S. Secretary of Energy, Nobel laureate Steven Chu. In the Foothill course, Fraknoi – who was named California Professor of the Year in 2007 – explains all these ideas and discoveries in everyday language – using analogies, visuals, and humor instead of math.

Physics 12 will be offered on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6 to 8:30 p.m., April 6 to June 22, 2010. Pre-registration is advised, but, if there is room, you can come hear the first lecture and then register if you like the approach. The class is held on the main campus of Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, just off Freeway 280.

For registration information for the Spring Quarter see:

Physics 12 emphasizes key ideas that form the basis of our modern concepts of space, time, matter, and energy:

* The theory of how atoms work

* Energy, heat, and the arrow of time

* The special theory of relativity: what happens when you travel close to the speed of light

* The general theory of relativity: gravity, space-time warps, and black holes

* Quantum mechanics: the bizarre rules that govern the world inside the atom

In addition to examining the physics and physicists involved with these areas, the course will also look briefly at the effects that such physics ideas have had on the humanities, including poetry, fiction, music, and the public view of scientists.

The quarter concludes the course with a look at the work of Stephen Hawking, whose innovative ideas combine many of these areas and take some of Einstein’s ideas to the outermost limits of cosmic possibility.

For a course syllabus in pdf format, see:


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