Modern Physics

History 181B

Fall 2005
3 LeConte
Day & Time: 
MWF 2-3

The course examines the establishment of the ideas and institutions of modern physics over the last century and a half. We begin with the nineteenth-century organization of the discipline and the debates over the classical world picture (mechanics, electromagnetism and optics, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics). We then follow the dramatic changes that undid the classical picture, from the discovery of radioactivity through Einstein's theories of relativity on to the the creation of quantum mechanics and the accompanying philosophical disputes. Alongside these conceptual upheavals we will look at the evolving structure of the discipline, its links with industry and government, and the massive transformations of the Second World War, culminating in the atomic bomb. In the postwar period we will deal with the conceptual consolidation of the modern physical worldview and the emergence of ";big science"; in alliance with the state.

This course fulfills the L&S breadth requirement in physical sciences. A decent high-school level course in physics or chemistry will be adequate preparation, but all students should expect to learn a good deal of science. If you have questions, please contact the instructor or visit the course website