Thursday, December 30, 2004

100 years after Einstein


Seeing that it's 100 years now since Einsteins "miracle year" The Economist has written a piece outlining some of his theories and what he accomplished. An excerpt:

IN THE span of 18 months, Isaac Newton invented calculus, constructed a theory of optics, explained how gravity works and discovered his laws of motion. As a result, 1665 and the early months of 1666 are termed his annus mirabilis. It was a sustained sprint of intellectual achievement that no one thought could ever be equalled. But in a span of a few years just before 1900, it all began to unravel. One phenomenon after another was discovered which could not be explained by the laws of classical physics. The theories of Newton, and of James Clerk Maxwell who followed him in the mid-19th century by crafting a more comprehensive account of electromagnetism, were in trouble.

Then, in 1905, a young patent clerk named Albert Einstein found the way forward. In five remarkable papers, he showed that atoms are real (it was still controversial at the time), presented his special theory of relativity, and put quantum theory on its feet. It was a different achievement from Newton's year, but Einstein's annus mirabilis was no less remarkable. He did not, like Newton, have to invent entirely new forms of mathematics. However, he had to revise notions of space and time fundamentally. And unlike Newton, who did not publish his results for nearly 20 years, so obsessed was he with secrecy and working out the details, Einstein released his papers one after another, as a fusillade of ideas.

Well worth a read if like me you're a layman when it comes to physics.


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