Teaching and Learning General Relativity
General relativity is a fascinating subject that has an undue
reputation for difficulty. The index notation makes expressions look difficult, but this is quickly overcome
by doing problems. The concepetual difficulties are real, but
that is exactly what makes relativity so interesting. My
attitude toward teaching the subject is to focus on the physics, make
sure to mention the precise formal mathematics, and make absolutely
sure that everybody in the class, no matter how weak their background
or current understanding, knows how to do index manipulations. I
do not shy away from "rote learning" in the latter goal, as for many it
is easiest to first learn how
to calculate and only then learn the mathematical and physical meaning.
Unless the student has already had an exceptional special
relativity class, successfully learning general relativity usually
involves a complete revolution in the way one thinks about classical
physics. I try to make sure that as little as possible gets in
the way of each student achiving her personal breakthrough.
have developed my ideas about teaching relativity through being a
teaching assistant for undergraduate courses and a guest lecturer in graduate courses. My experiences have been
overwhelmingly positive. Even the students that don't completely succeed appear to enjoy the course.
I particularly recommend that all physics majors take an
undergraduate class if it is offered. By the end of a semester
you'll know what a black hole is, and you might not want to miss that.
I typically have ideas for projects that can be accomplished
by undergraduates (or graduate students). Some training in
relativity is helpful, but not necessary for all projects.
graduate school I supervised then-undergraduate Theo Drivas, leading to this paper.
I am currently supervising Maryland undergraduate Daniel Brennan. We have completed one project. and Daniel is at work on a second.
If you are interested in
relativity research feel free to
send me an email or just drop by.