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Next: MC224 Vector Calculus Up: Year 2 Previous: MC222 Optimisation

MC223 Relativity

MC223 Relativity

Credits: 10 Convenor: Dr. M. D. Dampier Semester: 2

Prerequisites: essential: MC123
Assessment: Regular coursework: 20% One and a half hour exam: 80%

Lectures: 18 Classes: 5
Tutorials: none Private Study: 52
Labs: none Seminars: none
Project: none Other: none
Total: 75

Course Description

This course introduces the basic ideas of Einstein's special theory of relativity. The connection with Newtonian mechanics is exploited and the simple k-calculus method of Milne and Bondi is used to obtain the equations of the theory. References to experiment are kept to a minimum.


The course aims to give the student the ability to use with confidence the ideas of world- line and space-time and to understand how to solve problems using the Lorentz transformations and the conservation of 4-momentum. The module forms an essential foundation for the course MC435 on General Relativity and will also be found useful in the course MC424 on electromagnetic theory.


To be aware of the principle of relativity in Newtonian mechanics and to see why the propagation of light poses a difficulty to classical theory.
To learn how to use space-time conceptualisation and the k-calculus.
To understand the difference between the classical and relativistic ideas of time.
To be able to use the Lorentz transformations and 4-vectors to draw out the implications of the theory.
To understand how an analogy with classical mechanics allows one to obtain a plausible theory of relativistic mechanics, and to see how the equivalence of mass and energy arises.
To be able to solve relativistic collision problems using both 4-vectors and coordinate methods.


1. The Law of Inertia
2. The Conservation of Momentum
3. The Speed of Light
4. Events in Space-Time
5. Time: the fundamental fact
6. The Lorentz Transformations
7. The Velocity Transformation Formulae
8. Minkowski Space and 4-Vectors
9. Relativistic Dynamics 1: Conservation of 4-Momentum
10. Relativistic Dynamics 2: E = mc2
11. Relativistic Dynamics 3: Photons
12. Plane Waves

Transferable Skills

Ability to use relativistic ideas in physical theories. Ability to use 4-vector methods. Ability to see that conventional ideas are not always correct.

Reading list


W. Rindler, Introduction to Special Relativity, Oxford University Press.

L. Marder, An Introduction to Relativity,


R. Katz, An Introduction to the Special Theory of Relativity,

C Kacser, Introduction to the Special Theory of Relativity, T.M. Helliwell, Introduction to Special Relativity,

A.P. French, Special Relativity ,

R. Resnick, Introduction to Special Relativity ,

N.D. Mermin, Space and Time in Special Relativity ,

Details of Assessment

The final assessment of this module will consist of 20% coursework and 80% from the one and a half hour examination in May/June. The coursework contribution will come from weekly work. The examination paper will contain 4 questions with full marks obtainable for solutions to any 3.

next up previous
Next: MC224 Vector Calculus Up: Year 2 Previous: MC222 Optimisation
S. J. Ambler