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Lesson plan: Speed of light


August 21, 2000
Web posted at 9:37 p.m. EST (0137 GMT)

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Students will:

  • Determine the significance and applications of the experiment at the NEC Research Institute in which scientists were able to break the speed of light.
  • Explain how experiment results "bend" Albert Einstein's theory of relativity.


National Science Education Standards, Science and Technology,
Content Standard E (grades nine-12)

High school students will learn that science often advances with the introduction of technologies. Solving technological problems can result in new scientific technologies and may extend the current levels of scientific understandings and introduce new areas of research.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy, Science and Technology

The value of any given technology may be different for different groups of people at different points in time.

Suggested time

One to two class periods


CNNfyi article, "Breaking the speed limit?"
Internet access


1. Ask students:

  • What is light?
  • How fast does light travel?

2. Introduce and define light. Include a discussion on Einstein's theory of relativity.

3. Have students read the CNNfyi article "Breaking the speed limit?"

4. Then ask students the following:

  • How were scientists able to make light travel faster than 186,000 miles per second?
  • Do you think this is a valid experiment? Explain your answer. Do you think it is important that everyone accepts that this was a reliable experiment and that the speed of light was broken? Why or why not?
  • What impact/application does this experiment have on modern technology?

5. Discuss with the class a comment by NEC researcher Lijun Wang in which he says, "This effect cannot be used to send information back in time; however, our experiment does show that the generally held misconception that 'nothing can travel faster than the speed of light' is wrong." Then ask the students:

  • In your opinion, what does Wang mean when he says there is a misconception about the speed of light?
  • How do you think this discovery will affect Einstein's theory of relativity?

6. Have the class discuss similarities and differences in Einstein's theory of relativity and Wang's recent discovery about light mentioned in the CNNfyi article.

7. Write the similarities and differences on the board.


Have students write about how the new discovery has "bent" Einstein's theory of relativity and what impact this will have on modern technology.

Introduction to relativity
Speed of light
Albert Einstein

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