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The Physical WorldAn Inspirational Tour of Fundamental Physics$
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Nicholas Manton and Nicholas Mee

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198795933

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198795933.001.0001

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Special Relativity

Special Relativity

(p.103) 4 Special Relativity
The Physical World

Nicholas Manton

Nicholas Mee

Oxford University Press

This chapter is about Einstein’s theory of special relativity, which is constructed around the premise that there is a maximum speed of interaction, the speed of light, a notion that leads naturally to the unification of space and time into 4-dimensional Minkowski space. The chapter opens with a discussion of the need for a coordinate independent description of physics, invariant intervals and Lorentz transformations. The Michelson–Morley experiment is described. The coordinate transformations that describe rotations and boosts in 4-dimensional spacetime are derived. The relativistic dynamics of point particles is analysed and this leads to the identification of mass and energy. Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism are rewritten in 4-vector notation and this sheds further light on the physical content of the equations. The action principle for electromagnetism is discussed and a relativistic action for point particles is presented.

Keywords:   Minkowski space, Lorentz transformation, relativity, Maxwell’s equations, Michelson–Morley experiment, 4-vector, spacetime, Einstein

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