General relativity: gravitation and curvature of space-time

Is Newton’s apple attracted to the Earth by a force or does it follow a “straight line” in the space-time curved by the Earth? How can a photon, which has no mass, be deflected by gravitation? And why do objects of different masses fall at the same speed?

In this context, how did Galileo’s discoveries guide Einstein to the theory of special relativity, and then to the theory of general relativity? Does the latter encompass the former? And in what cases are these theories applicable?

What if the most visible force in our everyday lives was not a force but a property of space-time?

These are all questions that the pre-university week participants will try to answer during one week. From Newton’s first law of motion to special relativity, and then from Newton’s second law of motion to general relativity, the high school students will follow the footsteps that led to discoveries at the basis of today’s work on the origin of the Universe, gravitational waves, and black holes.

Conferences from – among others – Dr Michael Esfeld, expert in philosophy of science, as well as visits of EPFL labs complete the program of this pre-university week.

In order to explain the conceptual trajectory that will lead us from Galileo-Newton space-time to the space-time of special relativity and then general relativity, the pre-university week will very much rely on mathematics, which are at the very heart of our modern understanding of physics. No prerequisites are required beyond a 1st year high school background, except for the desire to follow the reasoning that laid the foundations for modern physics in its original and universal language. Furthermore, the participants will have the opportunity to choose a group research project among several topics (some involving mathematics and others not).

Practical information

Where and when
July 4-8, 2022 at EPFL (Lausanne) – The pre-university weeks will of course take place in strict compliance with the sanitary measures in force at that time
Who
High school students who have passed their 1st year
Language
French
Teaching staff
Dr Nicolas Michel, EPFL graduate in physics and mathematics and high school teacher, accompanied by several EPFL students
Costs
CHF 50.- (excluding VAT). Lunches are included but the participants have to cover their housing and living expenses. Rooms are pre-booked at the Jeunotel in Lausanne until May 16, 2022. Please contact [email protected] if you are interested
Registration
Online registration is closed
Contact
Please contact the Education Outreach Department for any question: [email protected]

Optional readings

No specific prerequisites are necessary to attend this pre-university week beyond a keen interest in astrophysics, cosmology and epistemology. Therefore, the reading of one of the three books mentioned below could be interesting in the context of this pre-university week:

  • Hawking, Stephen. Une brève histoire du temps. Flammarion, 2018
  • Schutz, Bernard. Gravity from the Ground Up: An Introductory Guide to Gravity and General Relativity. Cambridge University Press, 2003
  • Weinberg, Steven. Les Trois Premières Minutes de l’univers. Nouvelle éd. Paris: Seuil, 1988

This pre-university week is offered jointly by EPFL’s Education Outreach Department and the Swiss Study Foundation.