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Einstein

Entry 131, on 2005-02-17 at 13:45:31 (Rating 1, Science)

This year is the 100th anniversary of one of the greatest years in the history of the human race. It is 100 years since Einstein's miracle year of 1905, where he introduced three significant new theories to physics. While this was only the beginning - he went on to introduce general relativity and important theories on quantum mechanics - it is an achievement which almost defies explanation in its brilliance and far reaching importance, especially since the papers were produced over such a short period of time.

Its ironic to note that the two significant theories (the two most important overall theories in physics: relativity and quantum theory) he made such a major contribution to, ended up causing him so much strife for the rest of his life as he tried to find a way to reconcile the two - an accomplishment still not achieved today.

The only achievement comparable to Einstein's I can think of is Isaac Newton's "annus mirabilis" of 1665 and 1666 (actually 18 months) where he not only invented a new branch of maths (calculus), but also discovered the laws of motion and gravity.

So what did Einstein actually contribute to science? He realised light was both a particle and a wave, introducing the notion of wave-particle duality to physics, which we now apply much more widely. He introduced special relativity which describes how mass and energy are interchangeable through the famous equation E=mc^2, and how the speed of light is constant, which requires time to slow down on fast moving objects, amongst other bizarre effects. And he introduced general relativity which describes gravity as a bending of space-time.

Very little observation and experiment was involved with these discoveries, they were purely the result of "thought experiments", a technique of examining reality through an imaginary experiment and reaching conclusions based on the logical results. As I said above, how someone who didn't achieve well in his education, and was employed as a patents clerk at the time, achieved these results is just extraordinary beyond belief.

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