But the new theory of quantum mechanics, which Einstein had also helped to found in , was telling a different story. Quantum mechanics is about interactions involving matter and radiation, at the scale of atoms and molecules, set against a passive background of space and time. In essence, Bohr and Heisenberg argued that science had finally caught up with the conceptual problems involved in the description of reality that philosophers had been warning of for centuries.
There is only an abstract quantum physical description.
It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.
The stage was thus set for one of the most remarkable debates in the entire history of science, as Bohr and Einstein went head-to-head on the interpretation of quantum mechanics. It was a clash of two philosophies, two conflicting sets of metaphysical preconceptions about the nature of reality and what we might expect from a scientific representation of this. The debate began in , and although the protagonists are no longer with us, the debate is still very much alive. This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.
Einstein predicted that distant stars could be weighed using gravity and researchers have done just that. Digital Issues Buy a back issue. Renew my subscription Give a Gift Manage my subscription. Features Physics 12 December It's one of the most famous phrases in science history. Jim Baggott reports.
And unresolved. In , Einstein published his theory of general relativity, which stated that gravitational fields cause distortions in the fabric of space and time.
Because it was such a bold rewriting of the laws of physics, the theory remained controversial until May , when a total solar eclipse provided the proper conditions to test its claim that a supermassive object—in this case the sun—would cause a measurable curve in the starlight passing by it. The news made Einstein an overnight celebrity.
Newspapers hailed him as the heir to Sir Isaac Newton, and he went on to travel the world lecturing on his theories about the cosmos.
According to Einstein biographer Walter Isaacson, in the six years after the eclipse, more than books and articles were written about the theory of relativity. His support for pacifist, civil rights and left-wing causes had already drawn suspicion from J. They even investigated tips that he was building a death ray.
The project came up empty handed, but by the time Einstein died in , his FBI file totaled a whopping 1, pages. In the lates, Einstein learned that new research had put German scientists on a path toward creating the atom bomb. The prospect of a doomsday weapon in the hands of the Nazis convinced him to set aside his pacifist principles and team up with Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard, who helped him write a letter urging President Franklin D.
Roosevelt to conduct atomic research. Though Einstein never participated directly in the Manhattan Project, he later expressed deep regrets about his minor role in brining about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. He went on to become an impassioned advocate of nuclear disarmament, controls on weapons testing and unified world government. Second, the "experimental group" had only one subject — Einstein. Additional studies are needed to see if these anatomical differences are found in other people. And third, only a small part of Einstein's brain was studied.
Also, the scientist's cerebral cortex was thinner than that of five control brains, but the density of neurons was higher. In particular, the frontal lobes, regions tied to abstract thought and planning, had unusually elaborate folding. Einstein's legacy in physics is significant.
Here are some of the key scientific principles that he pioneered:. Theory of special relativity : Einstein showed that physical laws are identical for all observers, as long as they are not under acceleration. However, the speed of light in a vacuum is always the same, no matter at what speed the observer is travelling.
This work led to his realization that space and time are linked into what we now call space-time. So, an event seen by one observer may also be seen at a different time by another observer.
The young physicist later spent two years searching for an academic position before settling for a gig at the Swiss patent office in Bern. Einstein was born on March 14, , in Ulm, Germany, a town that today has a population of just more than , To ask other readers questions about Secrets of the Old One , please sign up. He imagined that if you had a stationary charge observed by a stationary observer, there would be no magnetic field which could be observed with a compass. No customer reviews.
Theory of general relativity : This was a reformulation of the law of gravity. In the s, Newton formulated three laws of motion, among them outlining how gravity works between two bodies. The force between them depends on how massive each object is, and how far apart the objects are.
Einstein determined that when thinking about space-time, a massive object causes a distortion in space-time like putting a heavy ball on a trampoline. Gravity is exerted when other objects fall into the "well" created by the distortion in space-time, like a marble rolling towards the large ball. General relativity passed a recent major test in in an experiment involving a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
Photoelectric effect : Einstein's work in proposed that light should be thought of as a stream of particles photons instead of just a single wave, as was commonly thought at the time. His work helped decipher curious results scientists were previously unable to explain.
Unified field theory : Einstein spent much of his later years trying to merge the fields of electromagnetism and gravity. He was unsuccessful, but may have been ahead of his time. Other physicists are still working on this problem. There are many applications of Einstein's work, but here are some of the most notable ones in astronomy:. Gravitational waves : In , the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory LIGO detected space-time ripples — otherwise known as gravitational waves — that occurred after black holes collided about 1.
LIGO also made an initial detection of gravitational waves in , a century after Einstein predicted these ripples existed.
The waves are a facet of Einstein's theory of general relativity. Mercury's orbit : Mercury is a small planet orbiting close to a very massive object relative to its size — the sun. Its orbit could not be understood until general relativity showed that the curvature of space-time is affecting Mercury's motions and changing its orbit.