technology Archive

2016 – Forget Trump, it was Einstein’s year

Posted January 24, 2017 By admin

Somewhat predictably Time magazine named Donald Trump as their person of the year. I understand the reasoning, but cannot agree. The year undoubtedly belonged to Albert Einstein, but to understand why, we need to understand the deep importance of his theories and the effect they have on our everyday lives.
Two stories stand like book ends to the year; seemingly unconnected, but that is wrong. They are connected by the work of Albert Einstein.
The first was the announcement in February of the discovery of Gravitational Waves. Confirmation from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) of the capture of the signal on Sept. 14, 2015, caused quite a stir worldwide. Some described it as one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the last 100 years. Why? In essence, it gives us the ability of seeing the universe in a whole new way. Suddenly we are not only able to see the Universe, but now hear it. Whereas before we were deaf to space, now we can hear its music. And what will this mean? Ultimately it will take us all the way back to the start – back to the big bang. The very act of creation may be opened to us.
The second story was the December story that Uber was to use driverless cars in San Francisco. To be fair, it was short-lived. California officials ordered a shutdown after concerns of the cars running red lights. However, surely this is the thin end of the wedge. Driverless cars are here to stay and are set to revolutionise the transportation industry, the insurance industry and all service industries that employ drivers. We are on the verge of a huge shift in how we use the car.
What links these two stories? The General Theory of Relativity (GTR). Einstein’s 1916 masterpiece. Gravitational waves were predicted by Einstein as a consequence of the theory. No theory – no gravitational waves. And for driverless cars? One of the essential elements of the whole system is GPS. Without it, there could be no driverless cars and without the GTR there could be no GPS system. The network of satellites that provide GPS have to constantly take account of the effects of the GTR. If the adjustments were not made then every day the GPS system would be thrown out by miles, rendering it useless.
These stories are a reminder of Einstein’s legacy and our dependence on it. Long after The Don has gone, Einstein will still be influencing and remaking our world and our understanding of the universe. So whilst today’s news cycle may be dominated by Trump, when we look back to 2016 in a hundred years time it will be Einstein people will talk about.

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Einstein Pot Pori

Posted June 27, 2015 By admin

At various times I like to take a look at how and where Albert Einstein is appearing in the news or media. It is an interesting snapshot of his enduring legacy and the continued interest in him and his scientific achievements.

 

In the past few weeks I have spotted and viewed the following. I’m sure there are many more and if you have seen any of interest, I’d be delighted for you to forward a link.

 

    1. In May, the World Science Festival held its annual festival. It featured this wonderful panel discussion hosted by Brian Greene entitled Reality beyond Einstein. It traversed the expanding universe, the Big Bang, inflation, dark energy, black holes, string theory and many more subjects, all of them arising from Einstein’s General Theory of relativity.
    2. Science Vine in The Guardian published “How do solar panels work?” It is a concise and easy to understand explanation of the science and technology behind sonar panels. As the article points out, Albert Einstein provided the real breakthrough for modern photovoltaic technology in 1905, when he described the nature of light and used this to explain the nature of the photoelectric effect. It is a concise explanation of how important Einstein is to solar energy and one of the possible answers to future energy needs and sustainable energy production.
    3. The Guardian also published an article “Five reasons we should celebrate Albert Einstein”, by the writer Steven Gimbel, who has recently published a new biography “Einstein: His Space and Times”. I particularly enjoyed his fifth reason – His meaning as a cultural symbol of modernity and his conclusion that Einstein “gives us pride in ourselves as individuals who can make a difference; we can revel in free thought, but there is no need in doing so to reject our shared humanity”.
    4. In the “All About History Annual Volume Einstein appears in the 50 Events that changed the World (1905 – the laws of physics rewritten) and 21 Discoveries that changed the World (E=mc2. The equation that rewrote physics). Neither articles are in depth and neither list is numbered, but they are interesting in how his discoveries are viewed as part of our history.
    5. And finally, from the Perimeter Institute for theoretical physics a talk by Jurgen Renn of the Max Plank Institute entitled “The genesis and renaissance of relativity”. I wonderful talk on Einstein’s discovery of the theory and its underpinning of all of our astrophysics and cosmology.

 

In some respects it is unsurprising that this year there is attention on Albert Einstein, it is, of course, the 100th anniversary of the publication of his General Theory of Relativity. However, it is inescapable to see the sheer range and breadth of the ways in which he continues to appear in our culture. Einstein continues to be the torch bearer and touchstone of the general public’s engagement with science and the way science shapes our technology and society.

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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 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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Is Einstein Energy Close?

Posted August 28, 2011 By admin

Einstein energy is Fussion energy.

This is a great article in the Guardian Newspaper on the current state of fussion power. I thought it well worth sharing.

The fusion reactions at the heart of fussion power are E=mc2 factories. Without the theory we would lack the theoretical understanding of how fusion and hence, our stars work. We have Einstein to thank for the underpinning of fussion theory and the possible answer to our future energy needs. This is a very important link to understanding how Albert Einstein made and continues to make our world.

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