Visualizing Special Relativity
Special Relativity is usually a difficult topic to fully understand by undergraduate physics students. Like many other difficult physics topics, the inability to visualize and imagine is what makes these topics so hard to tackle. The goal of my project is to give students an interactive environment to play around and experiment with special relativity concepts like length contraction, time dilation and the doppler shift. To accomplish this task, I used the game development software, Unreal Engine, in order to build a game that included these concepts.
In the game, as you move around at speeds comparable to the speed of light you can see your relative time diverging from the proper time (time experienced by someone moving at speeds not comparable to the speed of light). Length contraction is shown by objects contracting in length as you walk past them due to your high speeds. On the objects, you can see the apparent length to you compared to the proper length seen by someone again not moving at speeds comparable to the speed of light. Lastly, the concept of the Doppler shift is shown by the differing in time of objects that you are walking away or towards.
During development, I was compelled to search for a better way of showing a concept or fixing some bug. I found myself rewriting the same code over and over in order to improve not only the functionality but the efficiency as well. I found the more I refined my code the game ran much smoother and my experience as a player became increasingly better. I was able to see my vision coming to light. I could see how someone that was new to the topic of special relativity would be able to play around for a bit and see these concepts become more easily understood. Now that everything has started to come together and the game is very playable, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.