Relatively Simple

Rober Close speaking on May 12. Dr. Robert Close presented a Faculty Speaker Series talk on the Theory of Relativity on May 12. Close is a physics instructor at Clark and seeks to explain the theory in a new and dynamic way. (Photo credit: Jacob Granneman / the Independent)

Pushing a lab cart loaded with gadgets and gizmos, all with complex uses and indistinguishable by the passerby, a Physics professor strolls into a hallway soon to be filled with avid science aficionados. As he takes to the podium, the projector hums to life and his presentation title fades onto the screen, “Illuminating the Theory of Relativity.”

Dr. Robert Close presented his ideas on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity on May 12 at 4 p.m. in Gaiser Hall. His talk was one of the many Faculty Speaker Series’ presentations, which are put on by Clark’s Teaching and Learning Center.

Close, a Physical Science instructor, examined the idea of wave measurement in the realm of relativity as it relates to equations and ideas contrived nearly 200 years ago.

“Things that are very complicated to explain, using quantum mechanics and current theories maybe have simpler explanations,” Close said. “I’ve gotten very interested in coming up with a different description of physics than the standard one.”

In a nutshell, Close has created what he calls the “cocktail party version of relativity.”

Close’s idea is that material particles, such as electrons or protons, can be modeled as waves that repeat their cycles in circles. 

In this version, Close describes two clocks in which the second hand ticks every time a wave completes a full rotation. The time recorded for each tick is less than a nanosecond; the time it takes for light to travel one foot. The first clock remains stationary, and the path of its wave follows two-dimensional circles, while the second clock is accelerated forward. This clock’s wave now follows a helical path as it continues to rotate while being moved through space. 

A graphic of two clocks. Clock on the left records time normally, the one on the left records slower with movement, which is indicated by an arrow pointing left.

Clock A remains stationary while Clock B is accelerated forward. Due to the acceleration, the moving clock experiences less time. Its wave cycle (the helical path) has traveled farther, but the clock has recorded less time. (Illustration by Jacob Granneman)

“It’s going to have to travel farther to make a full cycle around the circle,” Close said. “And so because it has to travel farther, it will tick slower.”

Through this idea, Close demonstrated that this type of measurement can be used in actual observations of material particles to further understand what Einstein’s theory really means.

“Once the students learn about waves, then I present the wave model of relativity to them,” Close said. “Everyone thinks it’s weird, but at least they have some logic behind it.”

Despite Close’s alternative approach to the theory, he is respected by other faculty in his field of study at Clark.

“These are complicated things,” said professor Richard Shamrell, chair of the Physics department. “I very much applaud differing viewpoints. You have to have the differing voices to sort out the best interpretation.”

Even beyond the scope of Close’s presentation, the series itself has received high praise from faculty.

“I think it’s a great thing,” Shamrell said. “Your faculty members are passionate about their subjects. However, Clark College is part of a community, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to share your passion with the whole community.”

The Teaching and Learning Center, with the aid of the Clark College Foundation, created the Faculty Speaker Series in 2008.

“It’s meant to highlight our talented faculty, and bring some of what they offer in the classroom, to the community at large,” said Lorraine Leedy, a faculty development program specialist at the center. “Students are really fortunate to have [faculty] teaching them directly in the classroom. They are getting that education directly from our professors.”

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