The Day Albert Einstein Died: A Photographer's Story
On the more complicated subject of time dilation, they receive only minimal credit. Overall, the protorelativity scientists received "1. One example comes from the Michelson-Morley experiment, which is now taught in most high school physics classes. Performed in , the experiment sought to measure how light slowed as it traveled through a substance known as "luminiferous ether," which was then thought to fill space. The experiment failed, though it did precisely measure the speed of light.
To explain the failure, scientists determined that moving objects such as light contracted along their length.
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Knowing that electrical forces exist within a moving meter stick, and relying on the recently determined Maxwell equations to calculate electric and magnetic fields, scientists devised a formula for length contraction — a formula still used today to measure length contraction in relativity. According to Siegel, protorelativity was not wrong as much as it was bulky and awkward. For instance, in order to determine the results created by increasing mass, scientists theorized that electrons deform as they move. They don't. The sheer messiness of such theories helped motivate Einstein to generate his work, Siegel said.
While the scientists who came before Albert Einstein provided a significant foundation for the famous scientist's relativistic theories, Siegel emphasized that these researchers didn't come close to applying the same logic Einstein used. The creator of relativity organized the information in a completely new way, providing a previously unseen perspective that united what had come before.
His approach toward time dilation had no counterpart in the era of protorelativity.
Does the idea of a strong foundation dilute Einstein's importance, or cast doubt on his genius? Siegel says no, pointing to Isaac Newton 's quote: "If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. Einstein published his theory of special relativity in and his theory of general relativity in But the famous scientist wasn't content to rest on his laurels afterwards.
According to Halpern, the physicist never felt that his general relativity theory was complete, because it failed to incorporate electromagnetism. In the s, Einstein began to search for a unified field theorem — one that would succeed in uniting electromagnetism and gravity.
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In , the scientist published his theory of distant parallelism, which modified general relativity. By adding a component known as tetrads to the space-time surface, Einstein made it possible to define parallel lines independently between two distant points in space.
The physicist defined tetrads by equations that turned out to be proportional to Maxwell's electromagnetic equations, allowing general relativity to describe both electromagnetism and gravity. The press received the new theory with greater enthusiasm than did the physics community. Ironically, this reversed Einstein's status prior to the experimental confirmation of general relativity, when the public generally ignored him while physicists respected him. Einstein's split from the physics community was due in part to his public rejection of the new theory of quantum mechanics.
Because of this position, few scientists in the field kept up with Einstein's latest work. The scientist remained famous in the popular imagination, however. Einstein always insisted that quantum mechanics could be derived from some more complete theory.
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For Einstein, who was never satisfied with the weirdness and randomness inherent in quantum theory, any acceptable unified field theory had to have quantum mechanics as a consequence. In the s, when Einstein began his work on a unified field theory, electromagnetism and gravity were the only known forces, and the electron and the proton were the only known subatomic particles.
Most physicists at the time were excited about the newly discovered quantum theory, and spent their time absorbed with exploring its bizarre and interesting consequences. But Einstein, and several other scientists, did work on the problem of unification. In , Hermann Weyl proposed a unification scheme based on a generalization of Riemannian geometry.
Oskar Klein later refined this idea. Einstein liked the five-dimensional approach. In , he wrote to Kaluza, "The idea of achieving unification by means of a five-dimensional cylinder world would never have dawned on me At first glance I like your idea enormously. Another approach Einstein tried involved extending general relativity to include the equations of electromagnetism by generalizing the metric tensor while keeping the 4-dimensional geometry.
Einstein worked on these two basic approaches persistently for the last thirty years of his life, but neither method ever produced the complete unified theory he was looking for.
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He pursued and then soon rejected idea after idea. But he never gave up on his quest for a unified theory. Even while lying on his deathbed, he continued his work. The day before he died, he asked to have his latest notes brought to him. Einstein was aware of his position, and commented in that "I must seem like an ostrich who forever buries its head in the relativistic sand in order not to face the evil quanta.
He also became more and more absorbed in formal mathematical arguments, rather than following the physical intuition that had guided him in his youth to his great discoveries. Many people say that Einstein failed because he was simply ahead of his time. Today, many physicists are taking up his quest. The most promising approach appears to be string theory, which requires 10 or more dimensions and describes all elementary particles as vibrating strings, with different modes of vibration producing different particles.