Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian PHYS 5770 General Relativity Spring 2001: Concept

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The Mountain

General Relativity is not an easy subject. Not only is it mathematically hard, but its consequences, notably black holes, go quite beyond the realm of our personal experience. The absence of a suitable mental frame of reference makes it difficult to grasp GR.

Most courses on GR emphasize the mathematics, and it only after an arduous climb up the mountain that one begins to get a view of what things actually look like. Indeed, many courses teach you how to climb, but omit the view altogether. Which is sad, because the view is quite spectacular.

Black Holes hold greater fascination for the public than any other subject in Astronomy, including extra-terrestrials. What's the attraction? Certainly it is not the mathematics of GR, no matter how elegant that is. More likely it is something to do with the association of Black Holes with extreme roller-coasters, ultimate danger, and transcendent violence and power. Maybe it is the possibility that Black Holes might offer portals through space and time. Or perhaps it is that Black Holes are a frontier of the unknown, the edge of the abyss, their singularities being places where space and time as we know them come to an end.

The Concept

Students will collaborate in groups to design and build interactive computer Black Hole Flight Simulators. Accomplishing this will require learning elements not only of special and general relativity, but also of computer graphics. It might seem that the extra overhead of learning computer graphics would be a distraction to the main program of learning GR, but the hope is that students will actually learn more GR, not less, by using it and playing with it. Besides, computer graphic skills are good to have.

Making a BHFS will not be easy. We will follow two strategies designed to make the project tractable.

First, the BHFS will be a rather simple one:

This means no bullets, and no friends being torn apart. On the other hand you will be able to move about arbitrarily, including inside the horizon of the black hole.

Second, the project will be structured:

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Updated 7 Nov 2000