PUBLIC LECTURE (English language)

Einstein First: Changing the paradigm of school physics education by introducing the language of modern physics at an early age

Between 1900 and 1920 discoveries by Einstein and others revolutionised physics. The proof of the existence of photons led to quantum mechanics, while proof that space is curved confirmed the core prediction of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Today the so called Einsteinian theories have been tested with exquisite precision. They led to a completely new understanding of space, time, gravity, matter and radiation. Almost 100 years later, physics at school is still taught from an obsolete Newtonian standpoint, even though Einsteinian physics lies at the heart of modern technology, such as mobile phones, as well as space science, astronomy and timekeeping. The discovery of gravitational waves will make it even more relevant. In this talk I will report a series of pilot studies that have investigated the ability of children aged 11-12 and 16 to comprehend physics taught from an Einsteinian standpoint. My colleagues and I have developed curriculum material and teaching aids that bring Einsteinian physics vividly to life. Our results demonstrate that the concepts of Einsteinian physics are readily accepted by younger students, while older students believe that it would have been useful to have learnt those concepts at an earlier age. I will argue that we owe it to our children to teach them the Einsteinian reality that today represents our best understanding of the universe, while presenting Newtonian physics as a useful approximation.
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David Blair is professor of physics at the University of Western Australia and director of the Australian International Gravitational Research Centre. In 2005 - the World Year of Physics - was awarded the ANZAAS Medal. He is also involved in physics education though the Gravity Discovery Centre in Western Australia. He’s developed a niobium wave gravity detector and in 1984 developed the first sapphire clock – a super precise timepiece designed for space. Blair won the Walter Boas Medal of the Australian Institute of Physics in 1995.