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Physics Textbooks Don't Always Tell the Truth

Event Details

Event Dates: 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 - 4:00pm

Seminar Location: 

  • Duane Physics Room G1B20

Speaker Name(s): 

Allan Franklin

Speaker Affiliation(s): 

University of Colorado, Boulder
Seminar Type/Subject

Scientific Seminar Type: 

  • Physics Department Colloquium

Event Details & Abstract: 

Anyone who studies the history of physics quickly realizes that the history of physics presented in physics textbooks is often inaccurate. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The purpose of textbooks is to help students learn physics. An inaccurate history may serve a pedagogical purpose. It may help to explain concepts more clearly than the actual history. I believe, however, that it is important for those of us who teach physics to know the accurate history. In this talk I will discuss three episodes from the history of modern physics: 1) Millikan’s experiments on the photoelectric effect; 2) the Michelson-Morley experiment; and 3) the Ellis-Wooster experiment on the energy spectrum in β decay. Everyone knows that Millikan’s work established the photon theory of light and that the Michelson-Morley experiment was crucial in the genesis of Einstein’s special theory of relativity. The problem is that what everyone knows is wrong. The Ellis-Wooster experiment, on the other hand, is rarely discussed in physics texts, but it should be. In this talk I will present a more accurate history of these three experiments.