The Michelson - Morley experiment and the teaching of special relativity

Yoram Kirsh, Meir Meidav

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The traditional approach to the teaching of special relativity (SR) in the secondary or early tertiary levels, to students who are encountering the subject for the first time, has been based on describing the Michelson-Morley experiment (MME), then discussing the crisis which it brought to physics, and finally presenting Einstein's SR as a brilliant solution to that crisis. In the last two decades, however, several physicists and historians have claimed that this 'historical approach' should be amended and modern experiments should replace the MME as the motivation for the theory (Rosser 1968 and 1979, Haber-Schaim 1971, Kagan and Mendoza 1978, Chapman 1979). The authors' experience in teaching SR at Everyman's University (EU) of Israel has shown that the traditional approach which discusses historical developments, and particularly the MME, has important didactic merits. The purpose of the work is to describe briefly some conclusions at which they arrived during the development and teaching of the relevant courses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number314
Pages (from-to)270-273
Number of pages4
JournalPhysics Education
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1987


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