Whispers of the Big Bang?

Posted March 16, 2014 By admin

There are rumours that an American Astrophysics team are set to announce they have detected primordial gravitational waves, which are in essence an echo of the big bang. If correct it will be one of those big physics headlines, much like the announcement of the Higgs-boson.

The signal is rumoured to have been found by a telescope called bicep (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) at the South Pole. It scans the sky at microwave frequencies, where it picks up the fossil energy from the big bang.

What are gravitational waves? Follow the link for a full explanation, but in brief they are tiny ripples in the fabric of space/time that carry energy across space.

And what have they to do with Albert Einstein you ask? Well everything really because they are the last untested prediction of the General Theory of Relativity. To date there has not been any direct detection of them. If the rumours are correct and the team have detected them, then not only will it be further proof (if any is needed) of the correctness of GTR, but also will provide invaluable insights into the first moments of the Big Bang. It has been described as one of the Holy grails of Cosmology and would be ranked as one of the most important discoveries of our time.

Once more Albert Einstein and his predictions are in the news as his work continues to explain our universe and our understanding of it.

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Einstein Entangled

Posted December 1, 2013 By admin

Albert Einstein published more than 300 scientific papers and many of them have been repeatedly cited by subsequent scientists in their work over the years. However, which is the most cited?

What do you mean by cited?

It is important to properly and appropriately cite references in scientific research papers in order to acknowledge sources and give credit where credit is due. Science moves forward only by building upon the work of others. Any Scientist’s paper will cite other scientist’s work that has been used to explain or build on for their own work.

So which of Albert Einstein’s papers do you think is cited the most?

That’s easy, surely it would be E=mc2

You’d think so wouldn’t you, although, of course, the famous equation wasn’t contained in the original paper on special relativity. It was contained in a supplementary paper published later in 1905 and never actually contained the equation in that form. However, that’s for another day. Have another go.

Well, if it isn’t special relativity, it has to be General Relativity

Good guess, I mean this is one of the greatest theories in all of science and changed forever our view of the universe. It is often considered Einstein’s greatest scientific work. However, somewhat surprisingly, this great work is not Einstein’s most cited scientific paper.

Give me a clue.

It’s well known that Einstein won the Nobel Prize, but not for relativity…

The Photoelectric effect – it must be!

You are along the right lines. Einstein made fundamental contributions to Quantum theory, one of which was the paper he won the Nobel prize for – the photoelectric effect, which introduced the idea that light was made of particles as well as being a wave, but this wasn’t his most cited paper.

I give up.

The popular version of Einstein and quantum theory is that Einstein was opposed to it. In some respect this is right, but it wasn’t so much that he was opposed to it, as he didn’t accept that quantum theory was the whole story. As I said he was probably more responsible than any other individual for introducing the concepts that made quantum theory, but he didn’t agree with the non causal element of the theory, which is what led him to his famous comment about God not playing dice.

In 1935 Einstein co-authored a paper with Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen. The purpose of the paper was Einstein’s attempt to disprove Niels Bohr’s claim that quantum mechanics was a complete and fundamental theory of nature. It introduced the EPR paradox, which in its simplest terms says that by determining the position or momentum of one of two entangled particles that are on opposite side of the universe, instantaneously the position and momentum of the other is known, which violates his own theory of relativity which says nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light.

The paradox was eventually held to be true and the theory of entanglement is now a fundamental aspect of quantum theory.

In trying to disprove quantum mechanics, Einstein’s paper ended up leading to the discovery of a fundamental aspect of it.

And the most cited paper?

That’s it – the EPR paper. Whereas Einstein’s paper on special relativity has been cited some 700 times, his EPR paper has been cited 2500 times.

An irony that something that proved to be incorrect, is his most cited paper.

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Einstein, GPS and our World

Posted October 6, 2013 By admin

The sat nav in our car would be fundamentally floored without our knowledge of relativity, indeed it would be so inaccurate as to be useless and increasingly our world is dependent on GPS (or to be more precise GNSS). Such systems are startling proof of the modern world’s reliance on the work of Albert Einstein.

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) of which the Global Positioning System (GPS) is the most common are technologies reliant on an understanding of both Special and General Relativity. The systems are based on very precise timing pulses emitted by satellites and picked up on the ground. A comparison of signals from several satellites triangulates the position of the receiver. Such accuracy requires knowledge of timing down to billionths of a second. However, two effects alter the flow of time: the satellites motion and the gravitational field of the earth.

Special relativity explains the motion and General Relativity the earth’s gravitational effects. Both theories accurately predict the time lost by the satellite (7 micro seconds) and gained by the earth’s gravity (45 micro seconds). The net effect is that the clocks on the satellite gain 38 micro seconds per day. It doesn’t sound much, but if this difference wasn’t understood and accounted for, the systems inaccuracy would grow at 10 kilometers per day! That wouldn’t just send you to the wrong road, but the wrong town. The system is simply impossible without understanding the effects of relativity.

Yet how important are such systems really? If it didn’t work, we would simply go back to maps. Well, not quite. Like most modern technologies they have quickly become ubiquitous and essential in ways unforeseen when introduced. In 2011 the Royal Academy of Engineers in the United Kingdom published a survey on society’s reliance and vulnerabilities on GNSS. It reported that the European Commission estimates that 6.7% of Western Countries GDP (800 Billion Euros per annum) is dependent on such satellite systems.

Here is a sample of ways and uses for GNSS:

  • Road transport – commercial and freight management, emergency services and in car use.
  • Aviation – most commercial aircraft use such systems as well as the development of global traffic control.
  • Shipping and Rail transport.
  • Science – scientific applications are widespread.
  • Security- including the tracking of vehicles and suspects.
  • Heavy vehicle guidance – for example in highway construction and open cut mines.
  • Surveying, Mapping and geophysics.
  • Telecommunications – GPS timing is important of telecommunications applications.
  • Financial services – Global financial systems increasingly need precise timing for international money transfers.
  • Social activities.

However, as the survey highlighted, there are a number of issues arising from certain vulnerabilities of GNSS ranging from system related failures, atmospheric and interference both accidental and intentional, which places all the uses above at substantial risk in the future.

GNSS and in particular GPS have become essential in both a technological and economic sense to our modern world and such reliance is only likely to increase. Our reliance and the systems vulnerabilities reveal how much of our modern world is reliant and at risk from the technologies flowing from the work and theories of Albert Einstein and prove how he continues to make and shape our modern world.

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Albert Einstein on Stage

Posted August 11, 2013 By admin

Albert Einstein continues to hold our cultural attention. He has been the subject of opera, film and television programmes and now there are two additions to his stage presence. The diversity of the shows reveals the endless fascination with his story and science.

EINSTEIN is a new play by Jay Prasad and has premiered at the St Clements Theatre in New York. It is a serious character driven play about the complexities at the heart of Einstein’s personality and science.

In contrast Albert Einstein: Relativitively Speaking is a musical comedy at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

The diversity of these works proves the endearing legacy of the man and his importance to our times. How many other theoretical physicists can boast shows about them being performed on a New York theatre and comedy festival?

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Einstein versus Newton debate

Posted January 2, 2013 By admin

In 2005, to mark the celebrations for Einstein year (marking the 100th anniversary of the publication of Einstein’s miracle year papers) The Royal Society held a poll on Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton’s contributions to science and to humankind and invited votes from both the public and fellows of the Royal Society.
The culmination was a debate held at the Royal Society and the announcement of the results. Follow this link to view the debate.
Jim Al-Khalili, an Iraqi-born British theoretical physicist, author and broadcaster and who is currently Professor of Theoretical Physics and Chair in the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey supported Albert Einstein in the debate. Below are his reasons for nominating Einstein as the winner of the debate. Einstein provided:
• Mathematical proof that atoms exist. Until then scientists were till arguing over their existence.
• Proof that light was lumpy, made of small particles we call photons. It launched quantum theory. Without this work we wouldn’t have solar panels
• Two papers on special relativity giving us a new view of reality. Without relativity we could not study the building blocks of matter i.e subatomic particles
• An explanation as to why the sky is blue
• In 1915 the General Theory of Relativity, which led to a whole new field of science called cosmology and to black holes, the big bang and parallel universes
• Proof of the theory behind the laser, leading to CD’s, DVD’s.

The results? Sadly, Isaac Newton was the winner, but then with the debate being hosted by The Royal Society, Sir Isaac’s old stamping ground the result is hardly surprising.
A total of 1363 members of the public voted online and 345 Royal Society scientists responded to an email questionnaire.
The results showed Newton to be the winner on all counts, although opinion was much closer on the overall contribution to humankind. When asked who made the bigger overall contribution to science the public voted 61.8% for Newton and 38.2% for Einstein and the scientists voted 86.2% for Newton and 13.8% for Einstein.
When asked who made the bigger positive contribution to humankind the public voted extremely closely with 50.1% for Newton and 49.9% for Einstein and the scientists voted 60.9% for Newton and 39.1% for Einstein.
However, viewing the debate reveals that in the audience on the night, the debate swayed many who watched. A straw poll was taken at the beginning and the end and although there were no numbers it appeared certain that the numbers voting for Einstein were greatly increased at the end. For me this highlights that when the arguments for Einstein are actually heard, it causes a much greater acknowledgment of his contributions and influence. Everyone has heard of Einstein, but they don’t really appreciate his work and its influence, they just know the sound bites.
My hope is that this blog and Einstein day will help to correct such perceptions.
I like Professor Al-Khalili’s arguments. My vote is always for good old Albert.

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