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Research Van Swinderen Institute

Minor Einstein's Physics: Space-time and Parallel Worlds

In his 1900 address to the British Academy of Sciences Lord Kelvin, a leading scientist at the time and president of the Academy, sketched a gloomy picture of the future of Physics: Physics was complete, and nothing remained to discover other than to measure physical properties with more precision. Only two little "dark clouds" remained ...

These two dark clouds turned out to be harbingers of the two biggest conceptual revolutions in 20th-century physics: the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. These two theories have completely overthrown our understanding of reality, and resulted in a new and deeper understanding of the universe we live in and its fundamental building blocks. Nowadays, ideas and concepts from the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics pervade our language, culture, and technology.

In this 15 ECTS Minor we will explore these exciting fundamentals of modern physics. It consists of three courses, "Einstein's Universe", "The Quantum World", and "Building Blocks of Matter", of 5 ECTS each. All courses are taught in period 1a. The courses are taught in English.

This minor can be combined seamlessly with the Minor Astronomy through Space and Time in period 1b.

Aim of the program

At the end of this module the student has a conceptual understanding of the special and general theory of relativity, of quantum mechanics and the building blocks of matter and their interactions. S/he understands their implications and can extrapolate these to other phenomena.

For whom?

This minor is intended for bachelor students outside of the natural sciences: It aims to be “physics for poets and presidents”. The topics are treated in a mostly conceptual manner, with only (light) calculations when necessary. The minor does not require any prerequisites in terms of physics or mathematics.  


"Einstein's Universe" This module introduces Einstein's theory of relativity and its implications. The theory of relativity has profoundly changed the way we think about the world around us, it has created new possibilities, as well as raised new questions. In a conceptual manner the student encounters the constant speed of light, four-dimensional space-time, and the equivalence of energy and mass. Next we extend the principles of relativity to gravity, which results in the general theory of relativity with its fascinating implications, such as time travel, black holes, and gravitational waves.

"The Quantum World" In this module we enter the strange quantum world, where particles behave like waves, can tunnel through barriers, appear to be in multiple places at the same time, pop up out of nowhere and disappear quickly again, and in a ghostly way appear to influence each other at large distances. We cover some important technological applications of quantum physics, such as quantum cryptography, and we look forward to the first quantum computer.

"Building Blocks of Matter" In this module we try to answer the age-old question: "what is it made of?" We deconstruct the macroscopic world and via classical atoms we reach Mendeleev's periodic system, after which we descend towards the (atomic) nucleus. We then end up with quarks, electrons, and neutrinos, left-handed ghostly particles that traverse Earth unhindered, and finally the famous Higgs boson. Next to the underlying ideas we will also cover some important applications, such as the transistor, superconductivity, proton therapy, MRI, and the tomography of volcanoes.

More info

Diederik Roest (coordinator), Rob Timmermans, Gerco Onderwater, Daan van Eijk

Last modified:07 April 2021 4.28 p.m.