Einstein's Miraculous Year: Five Papers That Changed the Face of Physics

Einstein's Miraculous Year: Five Papers That Changed the Face of Physics

Einstein's Miraculous Year: Five Papers That Changed the Face of Physics

Einstein's Miraculous Year: Five Papers That Changed the Face of Physics

Synopsis

After 1905, Einstein's miraculous year, physics would never be the same again. In those twelve months, Einstein shattered many cherished scientific beliefs with five extraordinary papers that would establish him as the world's leading physicist. This book brings those papers together in an accessible format. The best-known papers are the two that founded special relativity: On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies and Does the Inertia of a Body Depend on Its Energy Content? In the former, Einstein showed that absolute time had to be replaced by a new absolute: the speed of light. In the second, he asserted the equivalence of mass and energy, which would lead to the famous formula E = mc2.The book also includes On a Heuristic Point of View Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light, in which Einstein challenged the wave theory of light, suggesting that light could also be regarded as a collection of particles. This helped to open the door to a whole new world--that of quantum physics. For ideas in this paper, he won the Nobel Prize in 1921.The fourth paper also led to a Nobel Prize, although for another scientist, Jean Perrin. On the Movement of Small Particles Suspended in Stationary Liquids Required by the Molecular-Kinetic Theory of Heat concerns the Brownian motion of such particles. With profound insight, Einstein blended ideas from kinetic theory and classical hydrodynamics to derive an equation for the mean free path of such particles as a function of the time, which Perrin confirmed experimentally. The fifth paper, A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions, was Einstein's doctoral dissertation, and remains among his most cited articles. It shows how to calculate Avogadro's number and the size of molecules.These papers, presented in a modern English translation, are essential reading for any physicist, mathematician, or astrophysicist. Far more than just a collection of scientific articles, this book presents work that is among the high points of human achievement and marks a watershed in the history of science.Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the miraculous year, this new paperback edition includes an introduction by John Stachel, which focuses on the personal aspects of Einstein's youth that facilitated and led up to the miraculous year.

Excerpt

In the twentieth century, we have been greatly privileged to witness two major revolutions in our physical picture of the world. The first of these upturned our conceptions of space and time, combining the two into what we now call space-time, a space-time which is found to be subtly curved in a way that gives rise to that long-familiar, omnipresent but mysterious, phenomenon of gravity. The second of these revolutions completely changed the way in which we understand the nature of matter and radiation, giving us a picture of reality in which particles behave like waves and waves like particles, where our normal physical descriptions become subject to essential uncertainties, and where individual objects can manifest themselves in several places at the same time. We have come to use the term “relativity” to encompass the first of these revolutions and “quantum theory” to encompass the second. Both have now been observationally confirmed to a precision unprecedented in scientific history.

I think that it is fair to say that there are only three previous revolutions in our understanding of the physical world that can bear genuine comparison with either. For the first of these three, we must turn back to ancient Greek times, where the notion of Euclidean geometry was introduced and some conception was obtained of rigid bodies and static configurations. Moreover, there was a beginning of an appreciation of the crucial role of mathematical reasoning in our insights into Nature. For the second of the three, we must leap to the seventeenth century, when Galileo and Newton . . .

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