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RelativityPosted Sunday, February 14, 2010, at 10:46 PM
In 1905, a series of papers appeared in ANNALEN DER PHYSIK, a German physics journal, submitted by a young man who was a technical examiner third class in a Swiss patent office with no university affiliation and no access to a laboratory. Apparently, an application to be promoted to technical examiner had been recently rejected and the young man had lots of spare time on his hands to ponder.
One of the papers examined the photoelectric effect of physicist Max Planck's quantum theory. Another dealt with the behavior of small particles in suspension. And a third paper outlined a special new theory of relativity.
The young man was Albert Einstein.
The first paper explained the nature of light and won the young man a Nobel Prize.
The second paper provided proof that atoms exist, a fact that was in dispute at the time.
And the third paper, titled "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies," changed the world. It later became known as "The Theory of Relativity." Unlike similar presentations, it had no footnotes or citations, and almost no mathematics. To the amazement of the physics community, he had reached his conclusions by pure reason.
"When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, it seems like two minutes. When you sit on a hot stove for two minutes, it seems like two hours -- that's relativity," Einstein quipped.
Born in Germany in 1879, Einstein moved to Switzerland as a teenager to continue his education. Ironically, he failed his college entrance exam on the first try. He was eventually accepted at Zurich Polytechnic Institute in a four-year course designed to produce high school science teachers.
"The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education." Einstein complained.
Although not considered an outstanding student, Einstein graduated in 1900 and soon began to contribute papers to scientific journals. His first effort was a paper on the physics of fluids in drinking straws. Two years later, he found a job in the Swiss patent office in 1902 where he remained for the next seven years.
The famous equation that accompanies the Theory of Relativity is that energy is equal to the mass of an object multiplied by the speed of light squared (a very large number). In other words, a very small mass of matter contains an enormous amount of potential energy.
Basically, matter (mass) and energy are reciprocal. Matter is untapped energy and energy is unshackled matter. The average-sized adult male contains enough matter to explode with the force of 30 hydrogen bombs.
This discovery led to the atomic age (nuclear power and nuclear bombs). Of his work, Einstein opined, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
After his papers had been published, Einstein applied for a job as a university lecturer but was rejected. He later applied to become a high school teacher and was again rejected.
He moved to America in 1933 and became a professor of theoretical physics at Princeton University.
"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." Einstein professed. "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as if nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."
Every night before he went to bed, Einstein read passages from old alchemy books. He died in 1955 at the age of 76. His brain was examined during the autopsy. It weighed only 1,230 grams, considerably smaller than the average human brain which weighs about 1,400 grams.
He was a man with a small brain and a bad haircut who couldn't get a job because he spent far too much of his time wondering about weird stuff.
He and I had much in common.
Quote for the Day -- "The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax." Albert Einstein
Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where discussions of relativity are relatively rare. His blogs appear on several websites, including www.myspace.com/bret1111
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Bret Burquest is a former award-winning columnist for The News (2001-2007) and author of four novels. He has lived in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Kansas City, Memphis and the middle of the Arizona desert. After a life of blood, sweat and tears in big cities, he has finally found peace in northern Arkansas where he grows tomatoes, watches sunsets and occasionally shares the Secrets of the Universe (and beyond) with the rest of the world.