Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The Annus Mirabilis (The Miracle Year):1905

Energy. Matter. Motion. Time. Space.

In 1905, Albert Einstein is 26, a patent examiner, working on physics on his own. He creates the Special Theory of Relativity, in which he demonstrates that measurements of time and distance vary systematically as anything moves relative to anything else.

In March 1905, Einstein creates The Quantum Theory of Light, the idea that light exists as tiny packets (photons). Einstein's work anchors the most shocking idea in twentieth century physics: we live in a quantum universe, one built out of tiny, discrete chunks of energy and matter.

How smart was he?

In April and May, Einstein publishes two papers. In one he invents a new method of counting and determining the size of the atoms or molecules in a given space and in the other he explains the phenomenon of Brownian motion.

And then, in June, Einstein completes special relativity -- which adds a twist to the story: Einstein's March paper treated light as particles, but special relativity sees light as a continuous field of waves. Einstein sees light as wave and particle...how's that for a change?..:-)

Later in 1905 comes an extension of special relativity in which Einstein proves that energy and matter are linked in the most famous relationship in physics: E=mc2.


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