Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein

By Abraham Pais | Go to book overview

21
The Photon

21a. The Fusion of Particles and Waves and Einstein's Destiny

I now continue the tale of the light-quantum, a subject on which Einstein published first in 1905, then again in 1906. Not long thereafter, there began the period I earlier called 'three and a half years of silence,' during which he was again intensely preoccupied with radiation and during which he wrote to Laub, 'I am incessantly busy with the question of radiation. . . . This quantum question is so uncommonly important and difficult that it should concern everyone' [E1]. Our next subject will be two profound papers on radiation published in 1909. The first one [E2] was completed while Einstein was still a technical expert second class at the patent office. The second one [E3] was presented to a conference at Salzburg in September, shortly after he had been appointed associate professor in Zürich. These papers are not as widely known as they should be because they address questions of principle without offering any new experimental conclusion or prediction, as had been the case for the first light-quantum paper (photoeffect) and the paper on specific heats.

In 1909 Kirchhoff's theorem was half a century old. The blackbody radiation law had meanwhile been found by Planck. A small number of physicists realized that its implications were momentous. A proof of the law did not yet exist. Nevertheless, 'one cannot think of refusing [to accept] Planck's theory,' Einstein said in his talk at Salzburg. That was his firmest declaration of faith up to that date. In the next sentence, he gave the new reason for his conviction: Geiger and Rutherford's value for the electric charge had meanwhile been published and Planck's value for e had been 'brilliantly confirmed' (Section 19a).

In Section 4c, I explained Einstein's way of deriving the energy fluctuation formula

(21.1)

where 〈ε2〉 is the mean square energy fluctuation and (E) the average energy for a system in contact with a thermal bath at temperature T. As is so typical for Einstein, he derived this statistical physics equation in a paper devoted to the quantum theory, the January 1909 paper. His purpose for doing so was to apply

-402-

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Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • To the Reader vii
  • Contents (entries in Italics Are Almost Entirely Biographical) xi
  • I- Introductory 3
  • 1- Purpose and Plan 5
  • 2- Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory 26
  • 3 - Portrait of the Physicist as a Young Man 49
  • II- Statistical Physics 53
  • 4- Entropy and Probability 55
  • 5- The Reality of Molecules 79
  • III- Relativity, the Special Theory 109
  • 6- ''subtle is the Lord . . .'' 111
  • 7- The New Kinematics 138
  • 8- The Edge of History 163
  • IV- Relativity, the General Theory 175
  • 9- ''The Happiest Thought of My Life'' 177
  • References 184
  • 10- Herr Professor Einstein 190
  • 11- The Prague Papers 192
  • 12- The Einstein-Grossmann Collaboration 208
  • 12- The Einstein-Grossmann Collaboration 208
  • References 228
  • 13- Field Theories of Gravitation 237
  • 14- The Field Equations of Gravitation 239
  • 15 - The New Dynamics 292
  • V- The Later Journey 297
  • 16- ''The Suddenly Famous Doctor Einstein'' 299
  • 17- Unified Field Theory 325
  • VI - The Quantum Theory 355
  • 18 - Preliminaries 363
  • 19- The Light-Quantum 364
  • 20- Einstein and Specific Heats 389
  • 21- The Photon 402
  • 22- Interlude- The Bks Proposal 416
  • 23- A Loss of Identity 423
  • 24- Einstein as a Transitional Figure 435
  • 25- Einstein''s Response to the New Dynamics 440
  • 26- Einstein''s Vision 460
  • VII- Journey''s End 471
  • 27- The Final Decade 473
  • 28- Epilogue 479
  • VIII- Appendices 481
  • 29- Of Tensors and a Hearing Aid and Many Other Things 483
  • 30- How Einstein Got the Nobel Prize 502
  • 31 - Einstein''s Proposals for the Nobel Prize 518
  • 32- An Einstein Chronology 520
  • Name Index 531
  • Subject Index 539
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