I. Introduction and Background 

Session 1: Introductory Lecture 

No assigned readings

Session 2: Faraday, Thomson, and Maxwell: Lines of Force in the Ether 

  • James Clerk Maxwell, Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998), vol. 1, v-xii, 155–68. ISBN: 9780198503736.
  • Bruce J. Hunt, The Maxwellians (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 73–107. ISBN: 9780801426414.

Session 3: Worldviews, Wranglers, and the Making of Theoretical Physicists 

Session 4: Waves in the Ether 

II. Einstein: Relativity, Quanta, and the Philosopher-Scientist 

Session 5: Einstein and Experiment 

  • Albert Einstein, “On the electrodynamics of moving bodies,” translated and reprinted in Arthur I. Miller, Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity: Emergence (1905) and Early Interpretation (1905–1911) (Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1981), 392–6. ISBN: 9780387948706.
  • Amanda Gefter, “When Einstein tilted at windmills,” Nautilus (December 2016). 
  • Peter Galison, “Einstein’s clocks: The place of time,” Critical Inquiry 26 (Winter 2000): 355–89. 
  • Optional: David Kaiser, “Lecture Notes: E = mc2 (PDF),” September 2020. 
  • Optional: Michel Janssen, “Appendix: Special relativity,” in The Cambridge Companion to Einstein, ed. Michel Janssen and Christoph Lehner (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 1–19. 

Session 6: Reception of Special Relativity 

Session 7: A Political History of Gravity 

  • Albert Einstein, “What is the theory of relativity?,” in Ideas and Opinions, ed. Carl Seelig (New York: Crown Publishers, 1954), 227–32. ISBN: 9780517003930.
  • David Kaiser, “General relativity primer: Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love curved spacetime,” unpublished manuscript, 2006.
  • Loren Graham, “Do mathematical equations display social attributes?,” Mathematical Intelligencer 22, no. 3 (2000): 31–36. 
  • Optional: David Kaiser, “General relativity: An informal primer,” unpublished manuscript, 21 October 2011. 

Session 8: Rethinking Light 

  • Emilio Segrè, “Planck, unwilling revolutionary: The idea of quantization,” in Emilio Segrè, From X-Rays to Quarks: Modern Physicists and Their Discoveries (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1980), 61–77. ISBN: 9780716711469.
  • Thomas Kuhn, “Revisiting Planck,” Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 14 (1984): 231–52. 
  • Optional: David Kaiser, “Lecture Notes: Blackbody radiation and Compton scattering (PDF),” September 2020.  

Session 9: Rethinking Matter 

Session 10: Matrices and Uncertainty 

  • Werner Heisenberg, “Quantum-theoretical re-interpretation of kinematic and mechanical relations,” translated and reprinted in Sources of Quantum Mechanics, ed. B. L. van der Waerden (New York: Dover, 1967), 261–6. ISBN: 9780486618814.
  • David Cassidy, “Heisenberg, uncertainty, and the quantum revolution,” Scientific American 266 (May 1992): 106–12. 

Session 11: Waves and Probabilities 

  • Walter Moore, Schrödinger: Life and Thought (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 191–200. ISBN: 9780521354349.
  • Niels Bohr, “The Bohr-Einstein dialogue,” in Niels Bohr: A Centenary Volume, ed. A. P. French and P. J. Kennedy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985), 121–40. ISBN: 9780674624153.
  • Optional: David Kaiser, “Lecture Notes: The double-slit experiment: An adventure in three acts (PDF),” March 2011. 

Session 12: Quantum Weirdness: Schrödinger’s Cat, EPR, and Bell’s Theorem 

III. Oppenheimer: Physics, Physicists, and the State 

Session 13: Physics under Hitler 

Session 14: Radar and the Manhattan Project 

  • Lillian Hoddeson, “Mission change in the laboratory: The Los Alamos implosion program, 1943–1945,” in Big Science: The Growth of Large-Scale Research, ed. Peter Galison and Bruce Hevly (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), 265–289.  ISBN: 9780804718790.

Session 15: Film: The Day After Trinity 

  • Note: In lieu of the class session, please watch the documentary film, The Day after Trinity (1981).
  • Robert Serber with Robert Crease, Peace & War: Reminiscences of a Life on the Frontiers of Science (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 121–44. ISBN: 9780231105460.

Session 16: Secrecy and Security in the Nuclear Age 

Session 17: Film: Containment 

Session 18: The Cold War Classroom: Teaching Quantum Theory in Postwar American Physics 

  • Philip Morrison, “The laboratory demobilizes,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 2 (Nov 1946): 5–6. 
  • Evelyn Fox Keller, “The anomaly of a woman in physics,” in Working It Out, ed. Sara Ruddick and Pamela Daniels (New York: Pantheon, 1977), 77–91. ISBN: 9780394735573.
  • David Kaiser, “Training quantum mechanics,” in Quantum Legacies: Dispatches from an Uncertain World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020), 116–135. ISBN: 9780226698052.

Session 19: Counterculture and Science 

  • David Kaiser and W. Patrick McCray, “Introduction,” in David Kaiser and W. Patrick McCray, eds., Groovy Science: Knowledge, Innovation, and American Counterculture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 1–10. ISBN: 9780226372884.
  • David Kaiser, “Zen and the Art of Textbook Publishing,” in Quantum Legacies: Dispatches from an Uncertain World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020), 136–151. ISBN: 9780226698052.

IV. Feynman and Postwar Theory 

Session 20: The Conservative Revolution: QED and Renormalization 

  • Robert Mills, “Tutorial on infinities in QED,” in Renormalization: Lorentz to Landau (and Beyond), ed. Laurie M. Brown (New York: Springer, 1993), 57–88. ISBN: 9780387979335.
  • Richard Feynman, QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), 77–101. ISBN: 9780691164090.
  • David Kaiser, “Physics and Feynman’s Diagrams,” American Scientist 93 (2005): 156–165. 

Session 21: Teaching Feynman’s Tools: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics 

Session 22: Quarks, Gauge Fields, and the Rise of the Standard Model 

  • David Kaiser, “Something for nothing” and “Higgs hunting,” in Quantum Legacies: Dispatches from an Uncertain World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020), 165–173 and 174–182. ISBN: 9780226698052.

Session 23: The Birth of Particle Cosmology 

Session 24: The Big Bang, Cosmic Inflation, and the Latest Observations

Session 25: String Theory and the Multiverse

No assigned readings

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2020
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Lecture Videos
Written Assignments