RanTom Thoughts/20050330 Einstein and his relatives
So, this is 2005, the so-called World year of Physics because it it the 100th anniversary of Einstein's "miracle year". All-well-and-good, as a physicist I should be happy right? Well, I'm not, so where does my rant today come from? What could possibly be wrong about all of the press that physics has been getting this year? Why would a physicist be Ranting and raving about the good publicity? I'll tell you in one word: Relativity.
"What's wrong with relativity?", you ask. Nothing as such, but the problem is that people are being misled as to what makes 1905 important for Einstein. In 1905 Einstein wrote 3 term papers. One on Brownian Motion, one on Special Relativity, and one on the Photoelectric Effect.
In the Brownian Motion paper, Einstein founded a kinetic theory to account for this movement by means of which he derived the chief properties of suspensions. This is important work for Statistical Mechanics. It was recognized at the time of publication as a key breakthrough in a hot topic. However, it was run-of-the-mill physics on day-to-day stuff, it was not the stuff of Nobel Prizes.
In the Special Relativity paper, Einstein proposed his first version of SR. It was still not the stuff of Nobel prizes. More on this later.
The third paper I mentioned was a paper on the Photoelectric Effect. The photoelectric effect is the release of electrons from certain materials by the action of light. The electromagnetic theory of light gives results at odds with experimental evidence. Einstein proposed a quantum theory of light to solve the difficulty. People so often quote Einstein's "God does not play dice" quote to show how Einstein was at odds with Quantum Mechanics, but this stuff is 100% Quantum. (The paper's name was even Quanta.) (It was the Uncertainty Principle with which Einstein had a problem.) This was the paper for which he won the Nobel Prize!
So back to Relativity. In 1905 Einstein published a paper on Special Relativity. Einstein was not the first to propose all the components of the special theory of relativity. His contribution is unification. (Did you know black holes were conceived by John Michell in 1784? More of a General Relativity thing, but interesting none-the-less.) This paper wasn't even a complete version of Relativity. (E=mc2 was brought out in another paper that year, so technically there were 4 papers, but 3 ideas.) After many false-starts (and papers) in between, Einstein finally came out with General Relativity in 1915. (Some even accuse Einstein of plagarism because most of relativity had been discovered already, just not assembled in one place.)
I'm not saying Einstein shouldn't be remembered for Relativity. He should. It's just that 1905 is not the version of Relativity we should remember him for. 1905 should be celebrated for his Nobel-winning paper, which the public never even hears about. We need to tell people the REAL reason for the celebration of 1905. When they hear about it in the news, Relativity is the only thing mentioned and they NEVER hear about the other works.
Here is an article from Argonne's OWN news page... and the quote from it that was responsible for bringing you this rant...
- This is the 100th anniversary of Einstein's "miracle year," during which he published three of the most important physics papers ever written. In those papers, Einstein presented the Theory of Relativity.
... What the Shell? That's the ONLY thing they mention. Nothing at all is mentioned about the photoelectric effect or Brownian motion. The reader is led to believe that all three papers are about some finalized Theory of Relativity, which is just blatantly wrong.... and I just had to rant about it.
As a side note, some would argue that Einstein's contribution was making a mathematical formalism for some of the ideas that were concept only. Then there's the issue of Einstein's mathematical prowess. There are many who believe that his wife of 1905, a mathematician, did the actual mathematical work behind his papers. (There is anecdotal evidence of him saying his wife did his math and people have found her corrections on some of his math papers in college. Furthermore, there is the evidence that he was a poor math student in his younger years.) So, if this was true, then what did Einstein himself contribute to Special Relativity besides being a collator of other people's ideas and math? His true genius with respect to Relativity comes out when General Relativity is finalized. (Further anecdotal evidence that his wife of 1905, Mileva, was the real driving force behind the 3 papers that year might be given in that Special Relativity is a fairly fine-tuned paper, whereas, after they separated, General Relativity took many false-starts to get to the form that finally came out in 1915/1916.)