Einstein’s 2015 Centenary

Posted January 9, 2015 By admin

This year marks the centenary of the first presentation of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
This blog will be running a series of posts recreating 1915 and Einstein’s formulation of his great work. It will also help to highlight sources information about the theory. There is bound to be much published on how Einstein came to the theory, what it means and the future of the theory.
The World Science Festival is a great site for science and I would recommend it to all readers. This year it will be running a number of programs to celebrate this milestone.
To commence the year, the site has put together some of the highlights of previous programs on Einstein.
My personal favorite is the piece by Brian Greene on the impact of Einstein’s work on science. Here is the transcript:
“Albert Einstein, of course, everybody knows the name, everybody knows what he looks like, but as a physicist, to me, he’s the greatest, most insightful intellect that our species has ever produced. This was a man who came into the world when understanding was one way and when he left, the World’s understanding was a different way. He completely revolutionized our understanding of space and time, he completely revolutionized our understanding of gravity, he revolutionized our understanding of energy. These are critical features of our universe that for thousands of years we looked at one way and then a man comes along, lives a life and when he’s gone, we look at it completely differently.”
This year will be bumper year for Einstein and his work and will help to celebrate how his amazing work created the World in which we live.
Enjoy the celebrations.

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Einstein on Humanities Cosmic tombstone

Posted October 25, 2014 By admin

At a recent evening for “the unbelievers”, organized by The Sceptic Magazine, Richard Dawkins, in conversation with Lawrence Krauss suggested that we should create a “cosmic tombstone” that is beamed into space and which contains humanities greatest achievements.

This is what he said:

I sometimes think that even now actually we should be sending out what you could call a ‘cosmic tombstone’ because eventually the human species is going to go extinct and it would be nice to think that Shakespeare and Bach and Darwin and Einstein – the achievements of the great humans of history – would not die with us. And so sending out a cosmic tombstone in the vague, faint, infinitesimal hope that it might one day be picked up, it really is infinitesimal by the way, I think that might well be a good idea.”.  

Interesting that Dawkins chose Einstein instead of Newton. I wonder if this has more to do with Dawkins own thoughts about religions and the religious, knowing Newton’s own sense of God’s importance. However, taken at face value it again illuminates the influence Einstein has as a flag bearer of what is best about us.

Dawkins’ words remind me of a quote in the introductory essay by Richard Price to the book – The Future of Spacetime – when talking about Einstein’s relativity revolution.

It was the enormity of the conceptual leap, not the complexity of its contents that spoke of Einstein’s genius. Other jumps forward had required revolutionary changes in a view of the world: the sun, not earth, was the center of the solar system. But in these changes we were replacing knowledge that had been learned. Einstein’s revolution required us to abandon what our eyes, heads, and hearts knew to be true.”

Marcus Chown in – Quantum Theory cannot hurt you – summed up Einstein’s contribution beautifully: “…the “general” theory of relativity, arguably the greatest contribution to science by a single human mind”.

Both of these quotes are confined to his contributions to science through relativity and don’t even take account of his work in Quantum theory, the forgotten aspect of Einstein’s work and which has had such a profound effect on the way we live our lives (through the technologies that rely on quantum theory such as computing and lasers) and our view of the universe.

Perhaps Dawkins may have thrown out the addition of Einstein to his list on a whim, but often we say the most important when we don’t sit back and think about them. For me Einstein would be the first on a list of humanities greatest achievements that we want the universe to celebrate.  

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Einstein’s Quantum Contribution

Posted August 30, 2014 By admin

There is standard potted story about Albert Einstein and Quantum Theory. It goes something like this. Einstein is famous for his theory of relativity, but he had a lot to do with the discovery of quantum theory and in fact he actually won his Nobel Prize in 1921 for his photoelectric theory of 1905. However, as the theory developed he abandoned his work in it and came to oppose the theory, which was summed up in his quote “God does not play dice”. The quote is one of his most famous.

However, this oversimplified story fails to realistically reflect Einstein’s view on the theory and this standard bland representation fails to recognize his contribution to the Quantum revolution.

Why is it important?

For me it helps us to appreciate how important Einstein is and how he fundamentally influences the world in which we live because Quantum theory underpins our modern technology. As Margaret Wertheim says in Pythagoras’ Trousers “No theory in the history of science has been more empirically successful than quantum mechanics. On the strength of quantum mechanics, humanity has built the microchip industry, and hence the computer industry. An understanding of the quantum realm has also given us the laser, and hence fiber-optic communications. CD players, bar code readers, laser surgery, laser guided weapons, and in the future probably also optical computing.”

Einstein’s contribution to quantum theory is discussed in a new book ‘Einstein and the Quantum’, by A. Douglas Stone. In a wonderful summary of the creation of the theory he sets out how Einstein made the fundamental contributions to the conceptual pillars of Quantum theory. Those contributions were:

  • Quantization of energy
  • Force carrying particles (photons)
  • Wave-particle duality
  • Intrinsic randomness in physical processes and stimulated transitions (the basis of the laser)
  • Indistinguishability of quantum particles
  • Wave fields as probability densities

What stands out in the book is the breadth and depth of Einstein’s contributions to the Quantum theory and though it is contributions to our modern world, which is to a great degree built on the success of the theory.

In contrast to the simplified story at the beginning of the article, where Einstein is painted as the opponent of the theory, in truth his contribution to Quantum theory was deep, rich and fundamental. He did oppose its intrinsic randomness, but that crude tale should not be allowed to detract from what he achieved in the field.

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Einstein’s Questions

Posted July 13, 2014 By admin

It never ceases to amaze me how often Albert Einstein appears in matters unrelated to physics or science. It’s as though an author believes that his subject will be enhanced and his argument’s strengthened if he lends the authority of Einstein to his writing. For me it reveals just how ingrained he is our modern culture and how persuasive his intelligence is held to be.

I have recently been reading an excellent book by Warren Berger called A More Beautiful Question. The book is about the importance of questioning and how to question more effectively. In the introduction he talks about How Einstein was a vocal champion of questioning. He says Einstein was deliberate in choosing which questions to tackle and that throughout his life, Einstein saw curiosity as something “holy”.

Later in the book, Berger talks about the importance of combinational thinking: the idea of connecting existing ideas in unusual and interesting ways.

The message is clear. If it is good enough for Einstein, then it is good enough for you. It seems fair enough to me and shows how quoting Einstein is seen as a way of enhancing the authority of your ideas.  

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Let There Be Matter

Posted May 25, 2014 By admin

Physicists at Imperial College London have published a report in which they claim to have solved the problem of creating matter from light.

We are not talking about some magical machine that makes a car from light (not yet anyway), but they are talking about is combining two particles of light (photons) into an electron and its antimatter equivalent – a positron.

The process involves the use of high energy lasers fired into a tiny gold capsule (called a hohlraum), which produces light as bright as a star and then sending a stream of high energy photons into the same space, which creates around 100,000 electron-positron pairs.

Let your mind dream about where this might all end up! Light into matter, could we possibly be on the verge of processes where we can create solids from light. Where could such technology take us?

And this process is all about Einstein. Oliver Pike, the lead researcher on the study says the process is one of the most elegant demonstrations of e=mc2 – the demonstration of the relationship between matter and energy

Just look at the components of the experiment and its underpinning. Photons, lasers and the relationship between matter and energy – all of them stemming directly from Einstein’s work. Such ability to manipulate light, particles and energy could never happen without Einstein’s work.

If we are ever able to create matter from light it will be because of the work of Albert Einstein.

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