Science praises Einstein’s year of discoveries

Amanda Garrett

Physics professor Thomas Emmons has a letter from Albert Einstein that was addressed to his father in 1935. Emmons’ father wrote to Einstein hoping to get a scientific thought on life on other planets.

Credit: Andrew popik

He’s on T-shirts, posters and now he even has own year.

Fifty years after his death, Albert Einstein is hotter than a supernova.

The United Nations and the scientific community are marking the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s “miracle year” by declaring 2005 “World Year of Physics.”

The reason for the rush of all things Albert is that in 1905, when he was a 26-year-old patent clerk, the German-born physicist published three revolutionary research papers.

“It is amazing that at 26 years old, he could propose so many revolutionary theories,” physics professor Thomas Emmons said. “Later in his life, Einstein said, ‘That was the year the storm broke out in my mind.’”

What makes Einstein’s achievements even more remarkable is that he was excluded by the traditional scientific community, physics professor Bryon Anderson said.

“He received a Ph.D in physics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, but he couldn’t get a job teaching in any high schools or colleges because his ideas weren’t yet being widely accepted,” Anderson said. “People thought physics was over before Einstein. They thought everything that could be discovered about physics had already been proven.”

Scientists discovered how wrong they were when Einstein produced three major discoveries in 1905. His theories revolutionized the understanding of time, space, matter and energy.

In March 1905, Einstein discovered how light works. Einstein proposed that light travels in particles called photons, said Emmons, the proud owner of an original letter written to his father by Einstein.

“Einstein’s ideas about light led to quantum mechanics,” he said. “Without quantum mechanics, there wouldn’t be any transmitters for radios, TVs or CD players. Without Einstein, we wouldn’t have this electrical universe we live in.”

In May, Einstein explained how matter works by using a mathematical equation based on Brownian motion, Anderson said. Scientists couldn’t explain the random motions of particles in liquid until Einstein proposed that it was the random vibrations of molecules. Einstein’s theory led to the discovery of atoms in 1908.

In June, Einstein proposed his theory of special relativity. Einstein explained that space and time obey the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles-per-second. If anyone disobeys these rules, there can be serious consequences, Emmons said.

“If anyone would try to go faster than the speed of light, they would get smaller and smaller and time would move slower and slower,” Emmons said.

In September 1905, Einstein added to his theory of special relativity by inventing one of the most famous equations in history: E=mc². Einstein proposed that energy and mass are different forms with the same characteristics, Anderson said.

“By using E=mc², Einstein explained how the stars shine,” Emmons said. “His explanation of how stars generate heat directly led to the creation of the atomic bomb.”

After such a big year, Einstein hardly stopped for breath. Later in his life, Einstein proposed the theories of special relativity, the cosmological constant and anti-gravity, which scientists still wrestle with today.

“Imagine if he had proposed all of those other theories in one year,” Emmons said. “1905 would have been his super-miracle year.”

Contact news correspondent Amanda Garrett at [email protected].