By: Kevynn Gomez
Discussions about relativity and physics can be daunting for many. This is exactly what local realtor Phil Lazzar wants to defy. His goal is to break down the misconceptions about understanding relativity.
Center Activities will be offering a two-part leisure class on Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity with the first session offered on Sept. 24 and the second on Oct. 1. The class, “Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity Simply Explained,” has been a reoccurring class for three years now. It is taught by Lazzar, a graduate of HSU in the 1980s.
Lazzar does not have any professional or academic training in physics and the Center Activities class is not endorsed or associated with the physics department at HSU. Lazzar bases his class teachings on his own learning and his passion for relativity.
“I’ve always been interested in science,” Lazzar said.
He is sitting in Northtown Coffee, and propped near his feet is a square and flat wooden board he calls a “spacetimometer.” The spacetimometer is an unpainted wooden square with a moveable plank meant to show the changing relationship between lightspeed and space.
The class will focus on explaining Einstein’s theory of special relativity in a more accessible way. His spacetimometer is one of the few tools he uses to explain concepts anyone can understand, “if they’re curious,” as he puts it.
This year’s relativity class is equally fitting since 2015 is the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s relativity theory. This 1915 theory was about the relationship between space and time and how an object’s mass influences gravitational pull.
“There’s a challenge of learning the material and then there’s the challenge of trying to figure out how to explain it,” Lazzar said. “I wanted to try to help people get around that.”
One moment he remembers distinctly is recreating Einstein’s famed train-platform thought experiment in a train yard years ago.
“All of a sudden a light came on and I got, like, the first piece of the puzzle,” Lazzar said. “It was such a good feeling in my head, a really good feeling.”
This good feeling is something he wants any students of the class to feel one day.
He said that the attendees of the relativity class are always diverse; some are older teachers, others are elderly community members and some are even elementary school students.
Lazzar wants to make the class as interactive as possible so students can understand the concepts better. Feathers, books and his spacetimometer are visual tools he uses to bring Einstein’s theory of relativity to life.
Lazzar lists HSU physics professor C.D. Hoyle as a major influence for him.
For Hoyle, the theory of general relativity is one of the most successful models of nature that exists in everyday life.
Hoyle says that Lazzar sat in on one of his beginning physics classes several years ago and this was when Lazzar told him he was interested in teaching a leisure class for Center Activities.
The physics department is not currently offering any commemorative classes or projects for the centennial of Einstein’s special relativity theory, Hoyle said, but he is interested in starting something.
Lazzar’s relativity class falls into the Leisure Programs category and is one of the few classes offered by Center Activities this semester not for outdoor recreation. It is also the only class dedicated to a hard science, unlike classes offered on beer-brewing or chocolate-making.
The Assistant Leisure Program Coordinator for Center Activities Valerie Rios said that people interested in teaching a class, including community members like Lazzar, can always propose ideas. Getting an opportunity to teach depends on both the person’s experience and minimum class enrollment, and not involvement with HSU academic programs.
“The leisure classes provide alternative options for people who aren’t nature-y,” Rios said.