Einstein Produces Theory of Relativity
The 6th of June 1905 AD
In 1905 Albert Einstein experienced what is now known as his Annus Mirabilis, producing four ground-breaking papers on problems in theoretical physics. Not bad for a patent-office clerk in his mid-twenties working outside the academic mainstream. It may be argued that his unusual (for a theoretical physicist) circumstances in fact gave him the intellectual freedom to produce such work, away from the university politics, administrative chores and teaching that rivals endured.
The four papers of Einsteinís great year concerned the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and mass/energy equivalence. It is the third, handed over to the journal Annalen der Physik on June 30 1905 which was the most seminal in theoretical physics, suggesting that the speed of light is independent to the frame of reference of the observer; that the speed of light is the upper limit of velocity (for example the light emitted by a source travelling at half the speed of light does not go above the speed of light). One of the upshots of the special theory of relativity was the possibility of time dilation, i.e. time being dependent on the relative speeds of observers.
So groundbreaking was Einsteinís thinking in this field that when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1921 it was for his work on the photoelectric effect, as what he postulated in his more significant special and general theories of relativity remained the subject of debate and controversy for years to come.
It was one of the innumerable idiocies of the Nazi regime in Germany that it drove away brilliant minds such as that of Einstein, and thought that by burning books of his work it could burn away his ideas. Before the outbreak of WWII Einstein and other physicists wrote to President Roosevelt warning him of the potential danger of Germany developing an atomic bomb, a warning because of Einsteinís reputation taken seriously and acted upon.
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