MAS314 Introduction to Relativity

Note: Information for future academic years is provisional. Timetable information and teaching staff are especially likely to change, but other details may also be altered, some courses may not run at all, and other courses may be added.

Semester 1, 2017/18 10 Credits
Lecturer: Dr Sam Dolan uses MOLE Timetable Reading List
Aims Outcomes Teaching Methods Assessment

Einstein's theory of relativity is one of the cornerstones of our understanding of the universe. This course will introduce some of the ideas of relativity and the physical consequences of the theory, many of which are highly counter-intuitive. For example, a rapidly moving body will appear to be contracted as seen by an observer at rest. The course will also introduce one of the most famous equations in the whole of mathematics: E=Mc2.

Prerequisites: MAS112 (Vectors and Mechanics)

The following modules have this module as a prerequisite:

MAS413Analytical Dynamics and Classical Field Theory

Outline syllabus

  • The need for special relativity: Galilean relativity in Newtonian Mechanics. "Ether", or lack of it.
  • Foundations of special relativity Postulates of special relativity; Lorentz transformations; time dilation; length contraction, Minkowski space.
  • Kinematics in special relativity: Velocity and acceleration four-vectors; uniform acceleration; momentum; E=Mc2;
  • Collisions in special relativity: Conservation of mass and momentum; applications to simple particle collisions.
  • The need for general relativity: Why special relativity cannot be the whole story.


  • To motivate the need for relativity as a theory;
  • To introduce the key ideas;
  • To introduce some simple applications in collisions and kinematics.

Learning outcomes

    Teaching methods

    Lectures; problem sheets with worked solutions.

    20 lectures, no tutorials


    One formal 2 hour written examination.

    Reading list

    Type Author(s) Title Library Blackwells Amazon
    B d'Inverno Introducing Einstein's relativity 530.11 (D) Blackwells Amazon
    B Giulini Special Relativity - A First Encounter: 100 Years Since Einstein 530.11 (G) Blackwells Amazon
    B Rindler Introduction to Special Relativity 530.11 (R) Blackwells Amazon
    C Feynman Six not-so-easy pieces: Einstein's Relativity, Symmetry, and Space-time 530(F) Blackwells Amazon

    (A = essential, B = recommended, C = background.)

    Most books on reading lists should also be available from the Blackwells shop at Jessop West.