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?

Summer school for high school students from July 5-9, 2021

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 Summer school 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 Summer school.

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 Summer school 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).

Program of the 2020 edition (in French)

Practical information

Where and when
July 5-9, 2021 at EPFL (Lausanne) – subject to favorable developments in the health situation related to the COVID-19 pandemic
High school students who have passed their first year
Teaching staff
Dr Nicolas Michel, EPFL graduate in physics and mathematics and high school teacher, accompanied by several EPFL students
Invited speaker
Prof. Michael Esfeld, epistemology expert and philosophy lecturer at UNIL
CHF 50.- (excluding VAT). Lunches are included but the participants have to cover their housing expenses. Rooms are pre-booked at SwissTech Hotel (on the EPFL campus) until May 24, 2021. Please contact [email protected] if you are interested
Registrations are closed.
Please contact the Education Outreach Department for any question: [email protected]

Optional readings

No specific prerequisites are necessary to attend this Summer school 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 Summer school:

  • 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 Summer school is offered jointly by EPFL’s Education Outreach Department and the Swiss Study Foundation.