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Lyceum Society: The Four-Dimensional Prostitute and Other True Stories

Lyceum Society: The Four-Dimensional Prostitute and Other True Stories

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The New York Academy of Sciences

Presented By

Preseted by the Lyceum Society


Speaker: Richard Tourin, former head of the Engineering Section

Albert Einstein, undoubtedly a great scientist, also had a colorful personality. His life story is full of breathtaking physics insights as well as legends, some of them true stories. Einstein is best known for his theories of relativity; he first published the special theory of relativity in 1905. Although the special theory is simple, it was not widely accepted for many years because it entailed a drastic revision of traditional ideas about space and time.

Uncertainty about the validity of relativity theory became immensely more complicated following Einstein's publication of the general theory of relativity in 1915, with its difficult mathematics and its sensational verification in the solar eclipse observations of 1919. That situation confused many scientists at the time, including the Nobel Prize committee, and stimulated a flood of essays and stories. Richard Tourin will review a few stories, including two from his own experience.

Einstein's Major Contributions Define Physics in the Twentieth Century

  • March 1905, birth of quantum physics. This work wins Einstein the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics.
  • April 1905, size of molecules: Einstein's most often cited work in modern literature.
  • May 1905, atoms are real: theory of Brownian motion convinces skeptics.
  • June 1905, merger of time and space: special theory of relativity.
  • September 1905, E = mc2: the most famous equation.
  • 1906, quantum theory of specific heat: first quantum theory of materials.
  • 1907, principle of equivalence, "Happiest Thought:" foundation principle of general relativity.
  • 1911, gravitational red shift, confirmed in 1960s: basis of theory of black holes.
  • 1915, gravity due to curvature of space: general theory of relativity.
  • 1916, induced and spontaneous emission: basis of the laser, invented in 1950s.
  • 1917, general theory applied to cosmology: introduces cosmological constant—now interpreted as dark energy.
  • 1918, gravitational waves: intense searches are underway in labs worldwide.
  • 1924, quantum statistics: Einstein extends Satyendar Bose's seminal paper.
  • 1925, Bose-Einstein condensate: Einstein's prediction, confirmed in 1990s.)

    *Timeline compiled by Lee Grodzins, MIT professor emeritus of physics.