Of all the physicists that have existed in the twentieth century, one of them stands
out above all the rest for very good reasons. This physicist's name is Albert Einstein.
This man's hard work revolutionized the manner in which scientists of today think about
the natural universe. As we, the population of the world, march into the new millenium,
Einstein will be the man to whom we look for guidance in further understanding this
wide, confusing universe that contains and directs us all.
In March 14, 1879, in the city of Ulm in what was known as West Germany, this
great physicist was born. His father wan an unsuccessful manufacturer of electrical
equipment. Due to his father's failure in his business, Einstein's family had to move to
the city of Munich, and they later moved to Milan. As many people know today, Einstein
was not originally thought to be the genius that he is, mostly because of his strong dislike
to the rigid teaching methods of his teachers and his tendency to be disruptive. He
excelled in science and math during his entire scholastic career, and he also studied these
subjects these subjects in school. After becoming a high school dropout, because of his
family having to move to Milan. In 1896, he revoked his German citizenship, and he was
stateless up until the year 1901, which was when he became a citizen of Switzerland (2).
Einstein worked a Swiss patent office from 1902 to 1909. In April 18, 1955, Einstein
died a citizen of the United States of America (3).
Within the year 1905, Einstein published four papers to the journal Annalen der
Physik, once one of the top physics journals in Germany. The first of these papers was
published in the March of 1905. In this paper, Einstein began to explain quite a lot on
the structure of light in such areas as how light contains a discrete amount of energy.
Max Plank also had come to the conclusion that light should contain this discrete amount
of energy, but Einstein went much farther than Plank did. Einstein explained how light is
composed of independent particles, such as those in a gas, and he named these particles
light quanta, today known as photons. This theory of photons contradicted the popular
belief of light acting purely as an electromagnetic sine wave . With this paper, many
problems encountered in scientific experiments involving light were resolved (1). This
paper brings a sense of irony with it, because a while after this paper was published, a
new branch of physics concerning the small particles of the universe, called quantum
theory, came to be. Even though Einstein was the one who created the paper on which
these physics were partially based, he refused to believe the principles of randomness
involved in the quantum theory, stating, "God does not play dice." (4).
Einstein published another paper to the journal Annalen der Physik in May of the
same year. This paper was not as scientifically important as the last paper, but it retained
its own significance nevertheless (1). In this paper, Einstein wrote about the well known
property of Brownian Motion explained by the kinetic theory (6). This motion can be
described as the random jittering or atoms due to their retained heat. Einstein proposed a
test to make sure that this theory was accurate. He said that if a scientist was to place or
find visible particles in a clear liquid, the particles would act in accordance with their
surroundings and randomly scuttle if the kinetic theory was true. If something else
happens in the same situation, then the kinetic theory could very well be false. It so
happened that the random jittering was seen, and the kinetic theory was reinforced (1).
Einstein did not stop writing to Annalen der Physik with only two papers; he was
on a roll now, and he was ready to write about his grandest discovery up to that point in
his life. He would discover what is know today as the Theory of Special Relativity (1).
He began on his journey to this theory when he observed some interesting properties in
producing a current with a magnet and a coil. He found that it did not matter whether he
moved the magnet or coil, because he measured a consistent current produced, as long as
the objects themselves pass each other at the same speed. He then came to the
realization that, no matter what the frame of reference is, the laws of physics will always
hold. This statement is now know as the Theory of Relativity. Another physicist,
Maxwell, had found in separate experiments that the speed of light was constant under all
frames of reference. His results were not given their due credit for a long time, but when
Einstein decided to mix his results with those of Maxwell's, he came to some very
interesting conclusions (6).
Einstein began to look at some odd situations. If a person imagines a clock,
which is based on light shooting up and bouncing back for one click. If an astronaut was
to stare at this clock going sideways on a spacecraft, he would see the path of the photon
would travel up and down relative to the craft, and the path seen by the astronaut would
then be triangle like. The path of the photon on the ship measured by the astronaut
would, according to the Pythagorean Theorem, be longer than if measured from inside
the spacecraft. Since the speed of light is constant for all observers, the time inside the
spacecraft must be running slower than normal when observed by the astronaut (6).
With this being discovered, Einstein totally broke Newton's steady flow of time
theory, and Einstein had proved time to be relative to speed. This meant that while
Newton's equations did bring correct or very close to correct answers, the ones based on
a constant flow of time are not entirely true. Most of the scientific community was
unwilling to accept that Newton was wrong, but later testing proved Einstein to be in the
right. When Einstein found that time is relative, he thought that since distance can be
measured in how far something travels in a certain amount of time, distance is also
relative. In short, an object is seen shorter (in the direction of motion) to an observer
moving at a different speed relative to the object, compared to the length seen by an
observer moving with the object. This effect is known as length contraction, and proves
that length is also relative (6).
Energy is the ability to do work, and that means all objects with any motion have
the ability to do work, because their motion can be harnessed to speed up other objects.
According to Einstein's previous equations, nothing can accelerate to the speed of light.
The only way Einstein could figure that this could happen is that the force needed to
accelerate the object increases. When mingled with Newton's law of force equals mass
times acceleration, Einstein pondered on if the mass may be increasing to slow the
acceleration. When he saw that mass was increasing with energy, he felt that there may
exist a connection between the two. Eventually, Einstein found the answer. He
published the answer in the last paper, sent in September of 1905, energy was equal to
mass times the speed of light squared! Mass and energy are merely different
manifestations of the same thing (6).
Einstein continued to move through life, but was bothered with his Special
Theory of Relativity. He wondered what made inertial frames of reference (frames of
reference at constant speed) so very different from a reference under acceleration. This
thought led Einstein into one of his most complicated works yet: to generalize the theory
of relativity to all situations, even those including gravity (6). He did not do so alone, but
he also included his mathematical buddy Marcel Groomsman to help him (3). By late
1915, Einstein had published what is now known as the Theory of General Relativity (1).
Out of his theory, a set of equations explaining how mass warps space-time was
rendered. These equations came to be known as the Einstein Field Equations. The math
involved in these equations was so complicated and long that only a select few could
come close to working them, but no one could come close to solving the more
complicated of these equations. Einstein felt that this was a serious pothole in the road
of developing this theory. Since working the formulas proved so difficult,
supercomputers are used today to create models of the gravitational forces predicted by
Einstein, and numerical answers to variables in the theory can be estimated (5).
Our great physicist, Einstein, had truly revolutionized the world's idea of gravity
in our universe with this new theory. He explained gravity as matter curving the
space-time (the three dimensions of space mingled with the one dimension of time)
around itself. A good two dimensional model of this is how balls of different masses will
push down on a rubber sheet when placed on the sheet, and in doing so, it will attract the
objects around itself. When it comes to the distortions of time, Einstein found with the
help of the prementioned theoretical light clock that gravity will slow down the time
around itself in proportion to the strength of the pull of gravity (5). Including the concept
of relative time, this theory, just as the Special Theory of Relativity, conflicted with
many of the views of Newton. Newton believed that gravitation was a remote force
where one object was connected to another through some invisible dimension, but
Einstein saw objects directly effected by the space-time curvature around them, and the
space-time was effected independently by other objects. Einstein also noticed that in
Newton's theory of gravitation, the change in one mass would effect its force on every
other object in the universe immediately, and this means that the effect goes faster than
the speed of light, which defies the Special Theory of Relativity (6). This led to the
property of gravitational waves. Einstein concluded that when any mass moves,
including spinning, it vibrates the fabric of space-time, and will send gravitational
fluctuations through the universe decreasing by a certain factor with increasing distance
from the center of the fluctuation (5).
The death of Einstein was truly a sad moment in the life of science. In his life, he
had changed the world's entire view of time, distance, and gravity. His Nobel Prize
winning work had led to the awe inspiring quantum theory. When one looks back at all
of the ideas that he has contributed to science, one must wonder what other great
innovations could have come from his brilliant mind if he was still alive.
1) American Instititute for Physics. "http://www.aip.org/history/einstein/".
2) Evans, J.C.. "http://www.physics.gmu.edu/classinfo/astr228/CourseNotes/
ECText/Bios/einstein.htm". Copywrite 1995.
3) JOC/EFR. "http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/
Einstein.html". Copywrite April 1997.
4) "Photoelectric Effect". Encyclopedia Britannica. University of Chicago. Page 401.
5) University of Illinois. "http://220.127.116.11/Cyberia/NumRel/EinsteinLegacy.html".
Copywrite 1995.Wudka, Jose.
6) Wudka, Jose. "http://phyun5.ucr.edu/~wudka/Physics7/Notes2_www/node2.html".