March 31, 2008

The less the students are spoiled by exposure to classical physics, the easier it is for them to get into contemporary physics

Ulrich Mohrhoff on Feb 25th, 2007 at 12:53 am
Like you, I love introducing undergraduates (and even higher secondary students) to the wonders of contemporary physics, which I do at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in Pondicherry, India. The less the students are spoiled by exposure to classical physics, the easier it is for them to get into contemporary physics.
The measurement units we ordinarily use are conventions. Theoretical physicists use natural units, in which such universal constants as c are dimensionless and equal to unity. So if conventions are left aside, the formula says E=m. In other words, E and m are absolutely the same thing, only (conventionally) measured in different units. E=mc2 therefore is no more than a rather unexciting conversion formula, much like the one we use to convert miles into kilometers or Fahrenheit into centigrades. This of course does not touch on the deep and fascinating question of what this thing E=m really is.

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