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Four Hard Ideas of Physics, Explained Simply

Four Hard Ideas of Physics, Explained Simply

Physics is often perceived as a complicated and unapproachable subject. Famously, Israeli politician Chaim Weizmann, once remarked that, over dinners together during an Atlantic crossing in the 1920s, Albert Einstein explained his theory of relativity “ me every day, and by the time we arrived I was fully convinced that he really understands it.” Yet, the age of the internet, with YouTube and TedTalks, has also shown that complex concepts can be presented to the general public in enjoyable and understandable ways. In this forum, Fran Allison and Francis Halpin Professor of Physics Mario Affatigato will explain four “difficult” ideas of physics. Week one will introduce Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism, which enabled our modern revolution in telecommunications. The second session will examine the often misunderstood idea of entropy, used in the contemporary press as a synonym for disorder. Relativity comes in week three, including discussion of both Einstein’s insights and their practical applications. The series will conclude in week four with an exploration of the supposedly mysterious concepts of quantum mechanics. Throughout the series, each session will define and introduce that week’s concept, provide some history, and explain the ideas and experiments surrounding it. Complex mathematics will be avoided entirely; instead, we will discuss interesting ideas and make abundant use of graphs and visuals. The series will nourish those who yearn to simply understand the profound ideas explored by physicists that help explain the world around us.  

Thursday Forum is held in Kesler Auditorium on the first floor of Hickok Hall. Each weekly session begins with registration and refreshments from 8:45-9:15 AM, followed by the lecture until 11:30 AM. The presentations blend lecture, media such as film and music, and discussion.

Admission to each four-week forum series is $40. Admission to individual lectures and one-, two-, and three-week forums is $12 per week. Admission includes the lecture and morning refreshments of coffee, tea and pastries. Payment can be made in person on Thursday mornings by cash or personal check. Credit card payments can be processed by registering online in advance at For more information, visit the Thursday Forum website or call 319.399.8523.

In the event of inclement weather, consult local media outlets to find out if the day’s forum will take place.