Einstein’s Practical Doctorate

Posted October 31, 2015 By admin

As November 2015 approaches and the celebrations of 100 years since Albert Einstein’s publication of The General Theory of Relativity kicks into full gear, it is easy to forget his other great achievements. This year also marks the 110th anniversary of Einstein’s so called “miracle year” of 1905 when he published papers on the following subjects:

  • The photoelectric effect
  • Size and number of atoms in a solution
  • Brownian motion
  • Special relativity and a subsequent further paper on the same subject and introducing the small matter of e=mc2.

The least celebrated of these great papers is the second in respect of the size and number of atoms; however, although maybe the least well known by the public it holds an Einstein record and has important influences for a number of industries.

The paper, entitled “A New Determination of molecular Dimensions”, (subject to some minor improvements) was the paper that Einstein submitted to the University of Zurich on the 20th July 1905 for his Doctorate, which he was to receive on the 15th January 1906.

What the paper described was a technique for calculating the size and number of molecules (atoms) in a solution. He did this in a mathematical calculation for the behaviour of sugar molecules in a solution and how this affects the measurable properties of the solution. He was finding a new way of getting results using liquids alone as against previous methods of obtaining the size and number of molecules in a solution from the kinetic theory of gasses.

Why should we be interested in this subject? Well, there are three reasons:

  • It was the work for which Einstein became a Doctor, so it is of biographic interest.
  • It is the most cited paper from Albert Einstein. What does this mean? In 1979 ( to mark the centenary of Einstein’s birth) researchers carried out a survey of citations (in papers published between 1961 and 1975) of all science papers published before 1912. Of the top eleven, four were by Einstein and the top was this paper.
  • It has widespread applications where the suspension of particles in liquids is used from industries as varied as the dairy industry, the study of pollution and the behaviour of liquid cement.

This paper is another example of the way in which Albert Einstein affects our world, in this case on a practical and important level.

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Einstein Special – Scientific American

Posted September 27, 2015 By admin

As I have written about several times this year, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the first publication of The General Theory of Relativity and, as expected, the books and articles are coming thick and fast.


The latest contribution is a Scientific American special Issue: 100 years of General Relativity. Contributors include Brian Greene, Walter Isaacson, Lawrence Krauss and Corey S, Powell. There are familiar subjects: essays about the history of the publication, his importance, his personality and his mistakes. However, one article in particular caught my attention. It is called Relativity’s Reach and contains a map of Einstein’s influence. It’s premise is that many of the ideas at the limits of physics, such as M-theory and de Sitter universes rely on Einstein’s masterwork on gravity and the bending of space and time.


The article relies on the analysis of 2435 abstracts of 2014 physics papers for 61 keywords, each of which represents a research topic that has grown out of general relativity, which is then visually represented.. It leads to a visually interesting map and reveals the depths to which Einstein’s work influences current ideas at the cutting edge of physics. And remember, this is just his work on General relativity; it doesn’t touch his work on Quantum Theory and Special relativity.


For a complete list of the current works that Einstein’s work is the cornerstone for, you will need to see the article, but it includes: multiverse, accelerating universe, standard model, supersymmetry, cosmology, string theory, quantum gravity, dark matter and gravitational waves.


Einstein’s influence remains deep and persuasive. It not only underpins much of our daily lives through technology, but also the ideas at the very edge of our understanding about the universe and the world in which we live.

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Einstein’s Masterwork by John Gribbin

Posted July 26, 2015 By admin

As 1915 marks the 100th anniversary of the presentation of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GTR), we can expect a number of books on the subject.

John Gribbin has an impressive track record in bringing modern science, and in particular Quantum Theory (‘In Search Schrodinger’s Cat’, and ‘Erwin Schrodinger and the Quantum revolution’) to the general reader. It’s of no surprise to find him delivering a book on Einstein and the GTR. Unfortunately this book is not to the standard of some of his previous works.

Gribbin argues in the book that although Einstein is remembered more famously for his work of 1905, in particular E=mc2, which is memorialised as his Annus Mirabilis, it is the GTR that is the greater work. He then sets about delivering a book to support this argument.

I have two difficulties with what he says and how he says it.

The first is I’m not convinced people do so regard Einstein’s work in such a way. I accept that many people do recognise the famous equation as, well, a famous equation, but I think most people do recognise the GTR as the pinnacle of Einstein’s scientific work. In that respect, he’s pushing against an open door, rather than arguing against accepted wisdom.

The second is having set out the argument; the book itself is actually rather light on the GTR. In a 208 page book, we don’t meet the theory until page 113 and then only for 40 pages. The balance of the book contains a brief biography of Einstein, the legacy of GTR and, rather curiously given Gribbin’s premise that the GTR should be regarded as Einstein’s greatest achievement, a 68 page chapter on the 1905 papers, entitled Annus Mirablis.

And here is the irony of the book: I actually thought the chapter on the 1905 papers was really rather good, better than the somewhat thin and once over lightly chapter on the GTR. I couldn’t help but feel when reading the book that the author was actually unconvinced by his own premise of the relative greatness of Einstein’s work.

I have given the book 3 stars because any book on Einstein that helps to explain his importance and greatness is welcome and some of the science explanations are well done. However, I can’t give more when, in reality, the book does not deliver on the central argument and fails to appropriately focus on the subject of its title.- the General Theory of Relativity.

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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 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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