Einstein in Love

Posted May 16, 2015 By admin

Einstein in Love: A Scientific Romance

Dennis Overbye

As a speaker at the 1918 symposium held at the German Physics Society in honour of Max Plank’s 60th Birthday, Albert Einstein, argued that science was an emotional, not a logical calling, a lover’s quest. For me, this reminder serves as the central theme of this wonderful biography of Einstein. The love of the title is about both Einstein’s emotional and scientific life and how they weaved together and effected each other. Near the close of the book, Overbye tells the reader that “The genius of abstraction who needs a woman to ground him in the world is a cliché….in Albert’s case the cliché is turned inside out. It was with physics that he needed to ground himself in the surreal fog of desire and the dizzying claims of the belly and other organs…” Einstein’s love life was complicated and messy and his science was often an escape. This is the central story Overbye tells, and he tells it extremely well.
The book concentrates on the years 1905 to 1916, the years of Einstein’s great scientific triumphs, beginning with the 1905 miracle year (photoelectric effect, special relativity and Brownian motion) to the crowning glory of the general Theory of Relativity. Against this backdrop is the gradual deterioration and collapse of his marriage to Mileva and his affair with Elsa. The books fulcrum is 1915 and 1916 as he completes GTR and his marriage ends. Throughout there is a great balance between the science and the personal and Overbye is very good at anchoring the story with in the wider context of history, especially the First World War. The science is explained with great care and detail, but does not take away from the story.
If you want to understand Einstein the scientist and human being, then this is the place to start.

i-einstein star rating 5/5

Highly recommended

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Einstein’s Laser World

Posted April 27, 2015 By admin

The laser is ubiquitous in our world, so much so that we take it for granted. Yet it lies at the heart of much of what we consider as modern. Lasers are a direct consequence of the pioneering work of Albert Einstein into Quantum theory and are an important component of his legacy and why I say we live in the world he created.

In 1917 Einstein published an article in Physikalische Zeitschrift that proposed the possibility of stimulated emission. This article showed that the statistics of absorption and emission of light would only be consistent with Planck’s distribution law if the emission of light into a mode with n photons would be enhanced statistically compared to the emission of light into an empty mode. Simply put it explains how one photon induces an excited atom to emit an identical photon. The physical process described and explained, led directly to the Maser and then the Laser in 1960.

So how is the laser so fundamental to our modern world? Here are some highlights:

  • HeNe lasers and then diode lasers form the basis of all bar code scanning technology, which as anyone who buys anything knows is used by every supermarket and just about any shop you care to name. There are literally billions of scans every year and there could only be a guess as to how many billions are saved every year for consumers, retailers and manufacturers. The bar code is at the center of our shopping and commercial experience.
  • Communications and information. Lasers connect millions of computers around the globe by flashing binary bits into networks of pure glass fibre optics. This global web across land and under sea is activated by laser diodes. In this role, lasers have become integral and essential to our interconnected, internet dominated world.
  • Carbon-dioxide lasers are used for industrial cutting and are essential for remote welding in the automobile and other industrial tasks.
  • The entertainment industry has been completely revolutionized by the laser. First there was the CD, then the DVD and Blu-ray and now they carry via the internet and telecoms music, film and every other form of entertainment to our electronic devices. The laser has also had a visual impact on art and music through art forms and performances enhanced by laser light shows.
  • War – although the star wars initiative, which was based on laser destruction of intercontinental missiles, was never developed, the laser is an essential ingredient in modern warfare, a number of weapons systems dependent on laser guided delivery.
  • Medicine has greatly benefitted from lasers. They are used in a variety of ways such as tumor destruction, diagnosis, LASIK (cornea correction) dermatology, treating the inaccessible, reconstruction and treatments.
  • Applied research projects such as the NIF use lasers in nuclear fusion research, a project that may bring limitless energy and help keep fossil fuels in the ground.
  • The laser continues to contribute across the board to a number of scientific research projects from the first Bose-Einstein condensate, to applications in spectroscopy, adaptive optics and astronomical telescopes.

These are just a few of the examples of the laser at work in our world. In just fifty-five years the laser has become an essential to the way we live and work. The technology is only likely to blossom. All of these uses are a direct gift of Einstein and his 1917 work on early Quantum Theory and reveal how much of our world is constructed and reliant on his work.

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Einstein’s Genius

Posted March 29, 2015 By admin

It goes without saying that as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the formulation of The General Theory of relativity by Albert Einstein in November 1915, we are likely to be treated to a whole range of programs, pieces and pontifications on the Theory, the man and his achievement.

One of the first out of the blocks is ‘What made Einstein a genius?’ a program hosted by 92Y as part of its “7 days of Genius Festival”. The program runs for nearly an hour and a half and features contributions from physicist Brian Greene, author Thomas Levenson and neurologist Frederick E. Lepore.

The main question posed is whether Einstein’s genius was a product of his time, his brain, or a mixture of both. Rather predictably it provides no clear answer, plumping for the latter, which is, of course, a rather obvious way out of answering the question. However, on the way it provides some enjoyable explanations of his life and contributions and the fundamental effect of his theories on our world and the way in which we live. Some of the information from Lepore about the different architecture of Einstein’s brain was particularly enjoyable, and for me, quite new.

I recommend you watch the program. It is easy to follow and a good introduction to many aspects of Einstein, his work and legacy.

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Einstein’s time and our death

Posted February 28, 2015 By admin

Albert Einstein thought deeply about time, its meaning and its consequences and his theories had a profound effect on the way in which time is thought about. To most of us outside a theoretical understanding of his work, time is still thought of, and indeed experienced as linear, a concept with a past, present and future; the so called arrow of time. However, that is not how he thought of time.

For Einstein the consequences of the equations about time meant that there is no past, present or future – that all of time is present all the time. In other words, there is no flow of time, no river moving forward moment to moment, even though that may be our experience, but rather it is a series of moments that do not flow and that therefore all of time is present all of the time.

So what happens when we die? Apart from discussions about the afterlife, what does this idea of time contribute to our understanding of mortality? Well, in a sense it means our existence remains as part of the fabric of the universe. This does not mean we live forever, but the moments of time that we lived remain because those moments are always there.

If we could step outside our universe, we could observe the whole of time,  the time that has been, the time that is current at the moment of our observation and all the time of the future. Embedded in that view would be the period of time (or those moments, like a package) when we lived. So in a physical sense we do not end with death (the destination of our spirit is another matter), we remain imprinted in that part of time for which we existed. Perhaps we should think of time as a cosmic Facebook, where our presence remains embedded even though we have gone.

It may therefore be of some comfort to imagine that thanks to Einstein we face death in the knowledge that we live on in time.

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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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