June 1, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

A century later, Einstein's first ideas still hold power

It's rare that a person gets a chance to overturn humanity's conception of the universe.

But with five scientific papers submitted in 1905, Albert Einstein managed to do that three times: proving the existence of atoms, uncloaking the bizarre realm of quantum mechanics and overturning views of space and time.

Einstein overhauled much of physics at age 26 during a seven-year stint as a Swiss patent clerk, newly married to his first wife and with a 1-year-old son. This year, physicists, authors, cooperative computing projects and even choreographers are commemorating his achievement.

Einstein is best known to the general public for his theory of relativity, the opening salvo of which came in a paper submitted in June 1905. That theory ultimately created a new conception of space, time and gravity. But the Nobel Prize came for his first work of 1905, which helped lay the foundation for quantum physics by suggesting that light behaves both like a wave and as a particle.


What's old is new:
A century after Albert Einstein submitted five revolutionary physics papers, his ideas still have resonance for scientists and high-tech researchers.

Bottom line:
Einstein's quantum revelations underlie today's nanotech work in areas such as chip design and are a fact of life for GPS satellites.

More stories on physics and technology innovation

"Relativity stretched our notions of space and time, but we still had space and time. Quantum physics destroys our everyday notions," said Richard Wolfson, a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont, in a lecture marking the 100th anniversary of Einstein's annus mirabilis.

And the shock waves spread widely: Decades later, the quantum revolution Einstein helped begin has become a fact of life in microprocessor design.

Einstein's papers that year are neatly packaged resolutions to the physics problems of the day. He launched them without the support--or hindrances--associated with being a typical young university researcher.

"It's unlikely he could have come up with relativity and quantum theory as a junior lecturer in a well-established physics department, where such ideas would probably have been suppressed as cranky coming from a man with no reputation," said Andrew Robinson, a scholar at Eton College and the author and editor of "Einstein: A Hundred Years of Relativity," to be published by Harry N. Abrams later this year.

To a certain extent, Einstein was in the right field at the right time. Experiments to test new theories were more affordable, and the field of physics was young enough to accommodate generalists such as Einstein.

"The outstanding problems in physics now are in some respects harder than the outstanding problems in physics 100 years ago," said Rice University physics professor Doug Natelson. That doesn't mean Einstein had it easy, though. If Einstein hadn't existed, he said, "I doubt it would have been one individual who would have figured out all these things in such a short space of time."

Quantum physics
Einstein's first paper, submitted in March, concerned quantum physics, the peculiar realm of the ultra-tiny in which certainties are replaced by fuzzy clouds of probability. Max Planck started the quantum physics ball rolling in 1900, but Einstein gave it major impetus when he showed that 19th-century physicists' view of light as electromagnetic wave was incomplete.

The word "quantum" refers to discrete packets of light--particles now

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Celebrating Einstein: Better wait on that!
Before we go off on the wonders of Einstein's theories one should take a close look at a self published book written by a young electrical engineer from Canada named Mark McCutcheon. His book, The Final Theory: Rethinking Our Scientific Legacy, provides a logical and consistent "Theory of Everything". The establishment has been profoundly quiet in response. Has this young man recognized that the "Emperor has no clothes!"?
From gravity theory ala Newton to electricity and magnetismm, and on to the limits on the speed of light his explanations, while at first startling, make perfect sense to me (and are logically consistant without resort to "paradoxes")-but then I am an economist (albeit, with some significan technical training).
I don't know this guy personally and have no monetary interest in the book nor in any of his ideas. But this has been the most thought provoking book I have read in years--and I read a lot of thought provoking books. For more information go to www.TheFinalTheory.com
James P. Savage III
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Just because it 'makes sense'
Doesn't mean it is correct.

Nature is full of paradox. Forcing science to 'make sense' is not science.
Posted by Bill Dautrive (1179 comments )
Link Flag
One chapter is enough....
... to prove that the author is an overworked amatuer who
doesn't really understand what he is talking about. He makes a
case, mostly by omitting facts, which wouid impress the casual
reader, but fails to come up with anything useful.

It's a shame in a way. I'm sure that the author expended
considerable energy (and money) to get his book published. And
i'm equally sure that the author really thinks that he is
presenting a new and revolutionary idea. But the effort and
conviction is for naught.

And please don't begin 'The Great Conspiracy of Science'
argument. If there was any credibility to 'The Final Theory', it
would be making a big impact in the world in the three years
since it was published.

Unfortunately, this volume will go on the library shelves next to
Velikovsy and Von Daniken. But that's where it belongs.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
Before writing "New Physics", one should at least know "old physics"
That McCutcheon guy needs go get a clue. Before listing "science flaws" he need some education. His answers to those "paradoxes" are like: "Where the light goes when it's turned off? To the refrigerator. Open it and you'll see".
1. Black holes. They don't stop shining just because they cool off. It's impossible to cool such enormous mass instantly.
2. Tunnel through the Earth. In ideal case (enclosed in vacuum), an object will oscillate back and forth indefinitely, just like an ideal pendulum, or ideal LC circuit, etc. The net energy produced is zero. In the real worls, the frictional losses will cause it to settle in the center of Earth. The net energy lost to friction will be the same as produced by fre fall to the center.
3. Work function. The guy obviously doesn't know that force and movement are vectors, and work is a scalar product of those. Scalar product of two perpendicular vectors is zero.
4. Fridge magnets. As long as the friction produced by the magnetic attraction is more than the object's weight, there is no motion and no energy spent. It can stay in that state indefinitely.
5. Freezing water. As strange it may sound for him, the energy released because of expansion is cooling the ice further. If you apply enough pressure, the water will stay liquid at 0C, but as soon as you relieve it, it will expand and freeze.

Et cetera,
Don't touch relativity, of you don't even know school physics.
Posted by alegr (1590 comments )
Link Flag
The next step
John Dobson has published some work which provides
food for thought in the next step to the "Theory
of Everything" Check <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://johndobson.org/jarticles.html" target="_newWindow">http://johndobson.org/jarticles.html</a>

- Gomu.
Posted by Gokulmuthu Narayanaswamy (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Sorry folks...
Here's another candidate for the bookshelf. Magic yet ever?????
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag

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