Sunday, April 6, 2008

Einstein iconography--five papers

"Albert Einstein lived here"

April 19th, 1955

Herbert L Block

Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing on layered paper

Humbleness and a missed opportunity for Johns Hopkins [instead of Princeton] to garner famed association with the growing iconic Einstein is represented in this anecdote from the Johns Hopkins Magazine by Joanne P. Cavanagh:

Einstein wasn't worth the money.

In a scribbled copy of a telegram sent in spring 1927, Johns Hopkins President Frank J. Goodnow posed the possibility of recruiting Albert Einstein to teach physics.

Shall [Johns Hopkins] offer 5 thousand for semester. Answer, Goodnow sent after meeting Einstein in Berlin.

"Goodnow," came the reply from Hopkins provost and former physics professor Joseph S. Ames. "Do not think Einstein for one year worth $10,000. Money needed elsewhere badly."

Einstein had won the Nobel Prize six years before. His theory of relativity and other scientific principles had revolutionized Newton-born classical physics, making way for the modern field of quantum mechanics. Einstein was already an international star, given a hero's welcome at New York's harbor in 1921, and lauded with medals and honorary degrees from Columbia, Princeton, and other elite universities.

But, as told in letters filed in an acid free folder in the archives at Milton S. Eisenhower Library, a move to lure Einstein to Hopkins failed. It seems the university also was making a play for renowned physicist Erwin Schrodinger, a founder of the new study of "wave behavior."

Schrodinger got the initial offer. And--after writing to ask about tenure, pension, teaching workload, and vacation days--he apparently didn't take the job. Goodnow then made a formal pitch to Einstein, who had become a target of Nazi-led anti-Semitism.

"I find in talking over with my friends that they were, as I supposed, very anxious to have you with us," Goodnow wrote on July 12, 1927.

The reply came back Sept. 7, typed in German in heavy round letters and signed simply "A. Einstein." The physics professor wrote that health problems prevented him from accepting. He further explained in words that would haunt Ames: "I could not offer enough to justify, it seems to me, such a great financial offer."

"Dear Goodnow," Ames wrote bluntly a few weeks later, forwarding Einstein's reply to the president at his farm in Norfolk, Connecticut. "He thinks that you offered him too much money."

In the 1920s, these letters were filed away in the administrative folders of the Office of the President, along with other work-a-day exchanges. The yellowed copies, bearing the finger smudges of Einstein, Goodnow, or Ames, lay hidden among memos about the physics lab construction budget.

From his subterranean office on the A-Level at Homewood's Eisenhower Library, archivist Jim Stimpert mentions the letters as an example of the tales archives can tell. Discovered decades afterward, the modest moment is regarded as a curiosity by the few fellow researchers who know of it.

"To think, Einstein didn't think he was worth that much money. He thought it would be wasteful," ponders Stimpert. "It might be akin to a star baseball player turning down a million dollar contract."

The university's offer in today's dollars wasn't small change either: about $90,000 a year.

The intimacy of the letters--the polite language, the deteriorating paper, and slanted handwriting--enlivens history. Yet, should Hopkins today woo another later-to-be-iconic scientist, the exchange might be lost. Put in 1990s terms, would the university have filed Einstein's response if it had been made via electronic mail?

Albert Einstein gave five papers that shook the world of physics in 1905...well, here are five papers that explore Einstein's remarkable position as a world icon. Stay put Greene and Hawking...Einstein hasn't been replaced yet.


"The Next Einstein? Applicants Welcome"


Dennis Overbye

March 1st, 2005

The New York Times

He didn't look like much at first. He was too fat and his head was so big his mother feared it was misshapen or damaged. He didn't speak until he was well past 2, and even then with a strange echolalia that reinforced his parents' fears. He threw a small bowling ball at his little sister and chased his first violin teacher from the house by throwing a chair at her.

There was in short, no sign, other than the patience to build card houses 14 stories high, that little Albert Einstein would grow up to be "the new Copernicus," proclaiming a new theory of nature, in which matter and energy swapped faces, light beams bent, the stars danced and space and time were as flexible and elastic as bubblegum. No clue to suggest that he would help send humanity lurching down the road to the atomic age, with all its promise and dread, with the stroke of his pen on a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, certainly no reason to suspect that his image would be on T- shirts, coffee mugs, posters and dolls.

Einstein's modest beginnings are a perennial source of comfort to parents who would like to hope, against the odds, that their little cutie can grow up to be a world beater. But they haunt people like me who hanker for a ringside seat for the Next Great Thing and wonder whether somewhere in the big haystack of the world there could be a new Einstein, biding his or her time running gels in a biology lab, writing video game software or wiring a giant detector in the bowels of a particle accelerator while putting the finishing touches on a revolution in our perception of reality.

"Einstein changed the way physicists thought about the universe in a way the public could appreciate," said Dr. Michael Turner, a cosmologist from the University of Chicago and the director of math and physical sciences at the National Science Foundation.

Could it happen again? "Who or where is the next Einstein?"

No question is more likely to infuriate or simply leave a scientist nonplussed. And nothing, of course, would be more distracting, daunting and ultimately demoralizing than for some young researcher to be tagged "the new Einstein," so don't expect to hear any names here.

"It's probably always a stupid question," said Dr. Lawrence Krauss, a cosmologist at Case Western Reserve University, who nevertheless said he had yet to read a profile of a young scientist that does not include, at some level, some comparison to Einstein.

Dr. Stephen Hawking, the British cosmologist and best-selling author, who is often so mentioned, has said that such comparisons have less to do with his own achievements than the media's need for heroes.

A Rare Confluence

To ask the question whether there can be a new Einstein is to ask, as well, about the role of the individual in modern science. Part of the confusion is a disconnect between what constitutes public and scientific fame.

Einstein's iconic status resulted from a unique concurrence of scientific genius, historical circumstance and personal charisma, historians and scientists say, that is unlikely to be duplicated.

Dr. David Gross, who shared the Nobel Prize for Physics last year, said, "Of course there is no next Einstein; one of the great things about meeting the best and the brightest in physics is the realization that each is different and special."

Physics, many scientists like Dr. Gross say, is simply too vast and sprawling for one person to dominate the way Einstein did a century ago. Technology is the unsung hero in scientific progress, they say, the computers and chips that have made it possible to absorb and count every photon from a distant quasar, or the miles of wire and tons of sensors wrapping the collision points of speed-of-light subatomic particles. A high-energy physics paper reporting the results from some accelerator experiment can have 500 authors.

"Einstein solved problems that people weren't even asking or appreciating were problems," said Dr. Edward Witten of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., Einstein's stomping grounds for the last 32 years of his life. "It could be there are big questions nobody is asking, but there are so many more people in physics it's less likely big questions could go unasked."

But you never know

"One thing about Einstein is he was a surprise," said Dr. Witten, chuckling.

"Who am I to say that somebody couldn't come along with a whole completely new way of thinking?"

In fact, physicists admit, waxing romantic in spite of themselves, science is full of vexing and fundamental questions, like the nature of the dark energy that is pushing the universe apart, or the meaning of string theory, the elegant but dense attempt to unify all the forces of nature by thinking of elementary particles as wiggling strings.

"We can frame an Einsteinian question. As you know, asking the question is the key," said Dr. Leon Lederman, a Nobelist and former director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. He likes to think, he added, that it will be solved by "a Brazilian kid in a dirt floor village."

Dr. Turner said he hoped and expected that there would continue to be Einsteins. One way to measure their impact, he suggested, was by how long it took society to digest their discoveries and move on.

By this metric, he said, Isaac Newton beats out Einstein as the greatest of all time (or at least since science was invented). Newton's world lasted more than 200 years before Einstein overthrew it.

"Einstein has lasted 100 years," he said. "The smart money says that something is going to happen; general relativity won't last another 200 years."

Looking the Part

Would that make someone a candidate for a T-shirt, or an Einstein? It depends on what you mean by "Einstein."

Do we mean the dark-haired young firebrand at the patent office, who yanked the rug out from under Newton and 19th-century physics in 1905 when he invented relativity, supplied a convincing proof for the existence of atoms and shocked just about everyone by arguing that light could be composed of particles as well as waves?

Is it the seer who gazed serenely out at the world in 1919 from beneath headlines announcing that astronomers had measured the bending of light rays from stars during an eclipse, confirming Einstein's general theory of relativity, which described gravity as the warping of space-time geometry?

Einstein had spent 10 years racking his brain and borrowing the mathematical talents of his friends trying to extend relativity to the realm of gravity. When this "great adventure in thought," as the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead called it, safely reached shore, Einstein caught a wave that lifted him high above physics and science in general.

The world was exhausted morally, mentally and economically from the Great War, which had shattered the pretensions of Enlightenment Europe. People were ready for something new and Einstein gave them a whole new universe.

Moreover, the mark of this new universe - "lights all askew in the heavens," as this newspaper put it - was something everybody could understand. The stars, the most ancient of embodiments of cosmic order, had moved.

With Whitehead as his publicist, Einstein was on the road to becoming the Elvis of science, the frizzy-headed sage of Princeton, the world's most famous Jew and humanity's atomic conscience.

It helped that he wore his fame lightly, with humor and a cute accent. "He was a caricature of the scientist," said Dr. Krauss. "He looked right. He sounded right."

When physicists are asked, what they often find distinctive about Einstein are his high standards, an almost biological need to find order and logical consistency in science and in nature, the ability to ferret out and question the hidden assumptions underlying the mainstream consensus about reality.

Dr. Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario describes it as moral quality. "He simply cared far more than most of his colleagues that the laws of physics should explain everything in nature coherently and consistently," he wrote last year in Discover.

It was that drive that led him to general relativity, regarded as his greatest achievement. The other discoveries, in 1905, physicists and historians say, would have been made whether Einstein did them or not. "They were in the air," said Dr. Martin Rees, a cosmologist at Cambridge University and Britain's astronomer royal.

The quest for general relativity, on the other hand, was the result of "pure thought," Dr. Rees said.

Dr. Peter L. Galison, professor of the history of science and of physics at Harvard, described Einstein as "somebody who had a transformative effect on the world because of his relentless pursuit of what the right principles should be."

Others said they were impressed that he never swerved, despite a tempestuous personal and political life, from science as his main devotion. "He fixed his concentration on important problems, he was unvarying in that," Dr. Krauss said.

Another attraction of Einstein as an icon is his perceived irreverence, and the legend of his origin as an outsider, working in the patent office while he pursued the breakthroughs of 1905. (Not that he was necessarily humble because of that; letters from his early years show him pestering well-known scientists and spoiling for a fight so much that his girlfriend and future wife, Mileva Maric, was always counseling him to keep a cool head.)

"Part of the appeal is that he comes from nowhere and turns things upside down," Dr. Galison said. "That's the fantasy," he explained, saying that science has always represented the possibility that someone without a privileged background could intervene and triumph through sheer ability and brainpower.

There is no lack of inventive, brilliant physicists today, but none of them are T-shirt material, yet. In the cozy turn of the century, Dr. Galison said, Einstein was able to be a philosopher as well as a physicist, addressing deep questions like the meaning of simultaneity and often starting his papers by posing some philosophical quandary.

But philosophy and physics have long since gone their separate ways. Physics has become separated from the humanities. "Everything tells us science has nothing to do with the ideas of ordinary life," Dr. Galison said. "Whether that is good or bad, I don't know."

As a result no one has inherited Einstein's mantle as a natural philosopher, said Dr. Galison.

We might have to settle for a kind of Einstein by committee. The string theorists have donned the mantle of Einstein's quest for a unified theory of all the forces of nature.

In the last half-century various manifestations of modern science have made their way into popular culture, including chaos theory and the representation of information in bits and bytes, as pioneered by Dr. Claude Shannon, the Bell Labs engineer.

The discovery of the double helix of DNA, the hereditary molecule, which laid the basis for the modern genetics, is probably the most charismatic result of modern biology. But the world is not awash in action figures based on James Watson and Francis Crick, the molecule's decoders.

Meanwhile Einstein's role of symbolizing the hope that you could understand the universe has at least been partly filled by Dr. Hawking, whose books "A Brief History of Time" and "The Universe in a Nutshell" have sold millions, and who has even appeared on Star Trek and The Simpsons.

"People know him," said Dr. Krauss, and his work on black holes has had a significant impact on the study of gravity and the cosmos, but he has not reinvented the universe.

The Next Big Idea

One reason nobody stands out is that physics has been kind of stuck for the last half-century.

During that time, Dr. Witten said, physicists have made significant progress toward a unified theory of nature, not by blazing new paths, but by following established principles, like the concept of symmetry - first used by Einstein in his relativity paper in 1905 - and extending them from electromagnetism to the weak and strong nuclear forces.

"It was not necessary to invent quantum field theory," said Dr. Witten, "just to improve it." That, he explains, is collective work.

But new ideas are surely needed

Part of Einstein's legacy was an abyssal gap in the foundations of reality as conceived by science. On one side of the divide was general relativity, which describes stars and the universe itself. On the other side is quantum mechanics, which describes the paradoxical behavior of subatomic particles and forces.

In the former, nature is continuous and deterministic, cause follows effect; in the latter nature is discrete, like sand grains on the beach, and subject to statistical uncertainties.

Einstein to his dying day rejected quantum mechanics as ultimate truth, saying in a letter to Max Born in 1924, "The theory yields much but it hardly brings us closer to the Old One's secrets. I, in any case, am convinced that he does not play dice."

Science will not have a real theory of the world until these two warring notions are merged into a theory of quantum gravity, one that can explain what happens when the matter in a star goes smoosh into a dense microscopic dot at the center of a black hole, or when the universe appears out of nothing in a big bang.

String theory is one, as yet unproven, attempt at such a quantum gravity theory, and it has attracted an army of theorists and mathematicians.

But, Dr. Witten speculated, there could be an Einsteinian moment in another direction. Quantum gravity presumes, he explained, that general relativity breaks down at short distances. But what, he asked, if relativity also needed correction at long distances as a way of explaining, for example, the acceleration of the universe?

"Relativity field theory could be cracked at long distances," Dr. Witten said, adding that he saw no evidence for it. But when Einstein came along, there was no clear evidence that Newtonian physics was wrong, either. "I would think that's an opportunity for an Einstein," he said.

Another Einsteinian opportunity, Dr. Witten later added in an e-mail message, is the possibility that Einstein's old bugaboo quantum mechanics needs correcting, saying that while he saw no need himself, it was a mystery what quantum mechanics meant when applied to the universe as a whole.

Dr. Smolin of the Perimeter Institute said it should give physicists pause that their leader and idol had rejected quantum mechanics, and yet what everybody is trying to do now is to apply quantum mechanics to Einstein's theory of gravity.

"What if he were right?" asked Dr. Smolin, who said he also worried that the present organization of science, with its pressures for tenure and publications, mitigates against the appearance of outsiders like Einstein, who need to follow their own star for a few lonely years or decades.

But as Dr. Krauss said, it only takes one good idea to change our picture of reality.

Dr. Smolin said, "When somebody has a correct idea, it doesn't take long to have an impact."

"It's not about identifying the person who is about to be the new Einstein," he went on. "When there is someone who does something with the impact of Einstein, we'll all know."

Paper #2

"Einstein as icon: How Einstein became the personification of physics"


John D. Barrow

January 19th, 2005


Scientific celebrity has a relativity all of its own. Some scientists are celebrated by their peers, some are treasured by their students, while others are lionized by the public at large. But very few are given the burden of being a celebrity to everyone, everywhere, all the time. Albert Einstein achieved that universality. Publicists must despair that he did so in the pre-television era, without an agent or the help of a public-relations company. He didn't even have a website. More striking still, I doubt that more than a handful of Nature readers have ever seen a colour photograph or a film of Einstein, and even fewer know what his voice sounded like. Yet his face has become an icon for wisdom, imagination, creativity and concentrated mental power; his brand name so pervasive a synonym for genius that even he once had to confess: "I am no Einstein."

There have always been scientific celebrities. Isaac Newton was the ornament of his age: people talked about him, made fun of him, and even devised Newtonian models of government and morals. But Newton never became an icon. Instead, he remained severe and aloof. In the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin became, with Thomas Huxley's assistance, a reluctant public intellectual. Although he kept to the wings, his ideas were centre stage in long-running controversies about science and religion, the origins of humankind and our relationship to the hairier members of the animal kingdom. In retrospect, what is interesting about Darwin's work is that at some popular level it was too well known. People thought that they could understand what he was saying. Indeed, that was the problem they understood too well.

Einstein restored faith in the unintelligibility of science. Everyone knew that Einstein had done something important in 1905 (and again in 1915) but almost nobody could tell you exactly what it was. When Einstein was interviewed for a Dutch newspaper in 1921, he attributed his mass appeal to the mystery of his work for the ordinary person: "Does it make a silly impression on me, here and yonder, about my theories of which they cannot understand a word? I think it is funny and also interesting to observe. I am sure that it is the mystery of non-understanding that appeals to impresses them, it has the colour and the appeal of the mysterious."

Relativity was a fashionable notion. It promised to sweep away old absolutist notions and refurbish science with modern ideas. In art and literature too, revolutionary changes were doing away with old conventions and standards. All things were being made new. Einstein's relativity suited the mood. Nobody got very excited about Einstein's brownian motion or his photoelectric effect but relativity promised to turn the world inside out.

The fact that it was supposedly understood by a mere handful of people on the planet was a comfort and added cachet. You didn't need to try to understand and no one would think you stupid for not knowing. Especially appealing was the fact that Einstein's ideas about space and time used familiar words, such as mass and energy, but endowed these words with new and richer meanings. Everyone knew what these words meant, but sentences, such as "everything is relative" or "moving clocks run slow" did not by themselves convey useful information. This irony was beautifully captured by Rea Irvin's cartoon for the New Yorker Magazine in 1929, which showed a New York street scene composed of a baffled road sweeper scratching his head surrounded by tradesmen and passing shoppers in various poses of puzzlement. The caption quotes Einstein: "People slowly accustomed themselves to the idea that the physical states of space itself were the final physical reality."

Einstein's celebrity began in 1919 when the British Eclipse expeditions confirmed his prediction of the bending of light by the Sun. This was headline news and in the years following the misery of the First World War it recreated a sense of order and hope about the Universe and human enquiry. Pictures of Einstein then were quite different. In 1905, he was a dapper young man working in a Swiss patent office. He was usually shown in a smart European-style suit, wing collar and bow tie, and would be instantly recognizable as an archetypal European professor.

After the Second World War, Einstein moved to Princeton where he became increasingly isolated from the main currents of development in theoretical physics because of his aversion to quantum theory. With no research group or school of students, he pursued a solitary search for an extension of the general theory of relativity. His aim was to unite relativity with the theory of electromagnetism and produce a 'unified field theory' the forerunner of today's 'theories of everything'. It is from this latter part of his life that his iconic legacy principally derives. The slightly bohemian looking, dishevelled old gentleman with the sad eyes captured so beautifully by Yousuf Karsh's camera in 1950 became the symbol of the power of the mind.

There are several things about Einstein's delayed celebrity that are interesting. First, Einstein's image in America contrasts sharply with that of the smart young man from Switzerland who made the acclaimed discoveries. The ubiquity of the older Einstein image meant that the concept of the scientific genius became associated with the image of an old fatherly figure.

The other great Einstein transformation, which occurred as the icon was emerging, is in some ways more interesting. This was in the style of his scientific work. In the brilliant papers of 1905, we see the hallmark of the young Einstein: penetrating ideas, motivated by crucial thought-experiments and finally fashioned into perfect form by mathematics that is "as simple as possible but no simpler". Yet the development of the general theory of relativity introduced Einstein to the power of abstract mathematical formalisms, notably that of tensor calculus. A deep physical insight orchestrated the mathematics of general relativity, but in the years that followed the balance tipped the other way. Einstein's search for a unified theory was characterized by a fascination with the abstract formalisms themselves. Rather than using physical arguments or thought-experiments, the strength and degrees of completeness of the formalisms themselves were used to sift their appropriateness as physical theories.

After his death in 1955, Einstein became the epitomy of intelligence in general, not just of scientific genius. His image appeared on postage stamps and magazine covers. He became the subject of poetry, sculpture and painting. 'Einstein advertisements' implied that buyers were smart to buy the product, or likely to become smart if they did. Conversely, the simplicity and ease of use of a product was endorsed by the assurance that you did not need to be an Einstein to use it. The most elaborate advertising campaign that exploited Einstein's image was the 1979 Pennaco Hosiery catalogue, intriguingly entitled "The Theory of Relativity Fall-Winter 79". Women were exhorted to "Believe in the theory of relativity". "Fashion relates beautifully making each part relative to the next� and thus creating fantastic total outfits. Thank you, Mr. Einstein, for the theory... and Happy 100th Birthday!"

Today, the Einstein industry is as strong as ever. I was surprised to find that I owned an Einstein suit, an Einstein toy, and inevitably an Einstein calculator. If the human race had to agree on an image to transmit to an extraterrestrial civilisation, I suspect that Einstein would be a part of it.

Most amazing of all is that despite the hullabaloo and the inevitable cynicism about celebrity in our age, especially in response to media-created icons Einstein's scientific legacy is greater than ever. His predictions about gravity have steadily been confirmed with just a few remaining beyond the reach of our experiments. His early scientific work was an unqualified success and his personal demeanour and response to fame an object lesson to all. This is why 2005 is the World Year of Physics Einstein's Year.

John D. Barrow is at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge.

Paper #3

"Einstein, icon for all time"


Dan Vergano

March 8th, 2005

USA Today

Some celebs only get hotter once they're gone, like James Dean and Elvis and Einstein.

The 20th-century savant's mustachioed mug and proto-Don King hairdo grace newsstands once again. The United Nations and the scientific community are marking the centennial of Albert Einstein's "miracle year" � he published three revolutionary research papers in 1905 by decreeing this the "World Year of Physics 2005."

Why the fuss? Because the physics giant, Time magazine's "Man of the Century" in 1999, is vying for the 21st-century title as well. The conceptual mutiny he started by showing that time and space, matter and energy are all interconnected continues to shape technology, policy and philosophy today.

"Einstein took humankind beyond the world of everyday experience to show much more was going on in the universe than we could imagine," says physicist David Harris, editor of Symmetry magazine, which explores the connection between modern physics and modern life. "Today, we are largely living in Einstein's universe."

As a scientific icon, Einstein, who died in 1955 at 76, stands alone. The atomic bomb, the weapon that has defined and haunted civilization since 1945, sprang indirectly from ideas he started and directly from a letter he wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, warning of the potential of such a bomb. Einstein's picture is on the cover of the Oxford Dictionary of Scientists. A statue of him fronts the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., near the Lincoln Memorial. Einstein sticking out his tongue is a popular T-shirt image for hipsters.

Many of Einstein's ideas, such as the theory of relativity, or E = mc2, are better known than they are understood, Harris says, but the truth is that physicists themselves are still grappling with a lot of his ideas. "Einstein represents a lot of different things to different people, but he was famous for a reason. He changed the world."

And it all goes back to three 1905 Annalen der Physik (Annals of Physics) papers by Einstein, a then-anonymous patent clerk, which not only led to such modern miracles as lasers, global positioning satellites and the atomic bomb, but also uncorked fundamental questions that are still being addressed by cosmologists today � things like the fundamental nature of atoms, time and the universe.

"What's really inspirational to me about Einstein isn't the specific ideas but the way he had of thinking deeply about nature in a way that is fascinating," says Alan Chodos of the American Physical Society (APS), which is leading the U.S. celebration of Einstein's miracle year. "It is amazing how much Einstein did and how much his ideas are alive."

Very much alive:

At the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting last month, the APS announced it is signing up participants for Einstein@Home, a free computer program (available at that people with high-speed Internet accounts can run to search for gravitational waves in data collected by U.S. and European researchers. This cutting-edge physics experiment pursues phenomena that Einstein proposed in 1915. Modeled on the SETI@home program that searches for extraterrestrial signals from aliens, Einstein@Home is a signature effort of the World Year of Physics 2005.

"Obviously we are working to genuinely analyze real scientific data," Chodos says. "But the other side of it is that anybody who wants to understand black holes or how gravity curves space and time, without the mathematics, can learn it at home from the program."

Bose-Einstein condensates, first proposed by Einstein in 1924, were voted No. 4 among the top 10 advances in research last year by Science magazine. These ultra-cold gases behave like giant atoms, allowing researchers to probe atomic behavior at regular scales. One outcome may be an understanding of superconductivity, the passage of electricity without resistance through conductors. Another, discussed at the AAAS meeting by Charles Clark of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is the creation of an atom laser that shoots atom beams the way a laser produces light.

A race is underway at physics labs worldwide to create the first quantum computer, whose programs would use the weird rules of quantum mechanics. Every calculation would occur simultaneously instead of one at a time, as happens now in conventional computers. Much of the thinking in the quantum information field derives from a 1935 paper Einstein co-wrote.

The biggest mystery in our understanding of the universe is dark energy, an anti-gravity that appears to be pushing galaxies apart at an accelerating rate. Einstein first proposed it in 1917, calling it the "cosmological constant." He later backed away from the idea, thinking it a mistake. But in 1998, dark energy shook the astrophysics world to its core when a study of distant exploding stars revealed its existence. Dark energy has been confirmed in galaxy surveys and signatures seen in heat left over from the origin of the universe.

National Science Foundation physicist Michael Turner has famously remarked that the only thing researchers know about dark energy is its name. That leaves an idea Einstein proposed during World War I on the cutting edge of contemporary cosmology.

"Thinkers like Einstein come along every half-millennium or so," says physicist John Rigden of Washington University in St. Louis, author of Einstein 1905: The Standard of Greatness. Physicists rank only Isaac Newton and the ancient Greek thinker Archimedes with Einstein in terms of their ability to think deeply and set the agenda for how scholars see the universe.

Einstein was a stubborn thinker who renounced his German citizenship as a teenager. He was "a world-class round peg in a square hole" with supreme confidence in his own opinions, Rigden says. Someone so brilliant would certainly find a home in physics labs today, he says, "but the question is whether he would make it out of high school without being bored out of his mind."

And physics has become too large an enterprise for any one man to shape, Harris adds, an ironic result of the changes Einstein started.

"Physics has changed since Einstein's day. It is no longer a one-man show," Chodos acknowledges. Many physics experiments involve hundreds of scientists operating high-priced particle colliders. "But one of Einstein's legacies is there is still plenty of good physics to do out there."

For all his greatness, Einstein never achieved his final goal of unifying his theory of gravity general relativity with the quantum theories that explain electromagnetic and atomic forces. His attempts took him far away from the mainstream of physics by the time of his death, but theorists are still striving to reach his goal of a unified theory.

Paper #4

"Einstein nutty professor or one cool dude?
Einstein the man and Einstein the icon are very different things"


Alex Johnson

April 19th, 2005


First there was Albert Einstein: genius, revolutionizer of the physical world, champion of Zionism, hero of pacifism.

Then there was Albert Einstein. He is another thing entirely.

Albert Einstein is a brand name. It belongs to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is administered by The Roger Richman Agency Inc. of Beverly Hills, Calif. The Roger Richman Agency Inc. is very particular about the brand. �When written in copy on all materials, the name �Albert Einstein�� must always bear a symbol, it insists.

It is a lucrative trademark. Over the years, Einstein has burrowed himself into the world's consciousness as the pre-eminent symbol of all things brainy, and marketers like their products to be considered brainy.

For example, Apple Computer and Micrografx Inc. have licensed his likeness to sell computers and software, respectively. Krone sells a $6,950 sterling silver fountain pen named for him. The Walt Disney Co. runs a division in his honor that markets merchandise to educate infants and toddlers--Baby Einstein. All of those uses, of course, were properly licensed.

Somewhere along the way, however, Albert Einstein got hijacked by hucksters. These are also among products you can buy today, some of them unlicensed:

  • Einstein sterling silver-plated spoons.

  • Einstein "Get a Half-Life" coffee mugs.

  • Einstein Holy Prayer Cards. They depict Einstein in a purple robe surrounded by a halo, in front of a chalkboard.

  • The Ultimate Albert Einstein Carrot Cake. Albert Einstein's genius lives on in this carrot cake, its manufacturer says.

  • The "Learn Like Einstein, Earn Like Gates" home business course.

  • Einstein wig, mustache and eyebrows sets. "Look like this famous genius!" the company says, although, if you were to wear these muskrat brown attachments, you would look less like a famous genius than you would a famous genius who has had a family of chinchillas die on his head.

  • And of course, there's the Albert Einstein Theory of Relativity Junior Baby Doll. As in lingerie.
  • "Einstein's gone beyond the figure that he is into iconic status," said Jim Tobin, a partner in Brogan & Partners Convergence Marketing, the firm that put K-Mart and Martha Stewart together. "He stands for almost any great idea now."

    The two faces of Einstein

    Albert Einstein, clearly, is a powerful brand. What is interesting is that it rests on a very particular image that we carry around in our heads that of the old Einstein, with the electrified hair and the droopy mustache and the indifferent wardrobe. The Einstein sticking out his tongue in the famous 1951 United Press photograph. The Einstein portrayed by Walter Matthau in I.Q.

    This is the Albert Einstein who, almost without exception, is portrayed as a nutty professor by the merchandise exploiting his brilliance. We don't, however, pay much notice to the Albert Einstein of E=mc2. This Einstein the non-trademarked one who published those astonishing papers in Annalen der Physik was a different fellow.

    Pictures of Einstein in 1905 show a relatively well-groomed 26-year-old man dressed sharply for the government job he held at the patent office in Bern, Switzerland. This Einstein is vigorous-looking and just a little devilish, with a rather jaunty face. He looks, more than anything else, like a happier Edgar Allen Poe.

    Give him a modern makeover, and this Einstein would be right at home before a camera, patiently yet urbanely explaining the intricacies of stem-cell research or the Mars rovers to cable TV audiences.

    This Einstein fathered an illegitimate daughter, divorced his first wife and later married his cousin, all the while carrying on more or less open affairs with the "ladies [who] swarmed around him like moonlets circling a planet," as Time put it in naming him its Person of the 20th Century. (Legend has it that Marilyn Monroe said Einstein was her idea of a sexy man.)

    This Einstein is a natural for today's bloggossip world, a dashing young man about town, easily accessible to the paparazzi as he lives the life of the mind by day and the life of the rake after dark. He is a tabloid dream.

    "Polarizing effect on young scholars"

    He is also, perhaps, an opportunity squandered.

    When physics organizations decided to mark the centennial of Einstein's blindingly brilliant work of 1905, they said one of their main goals was to attract students into physics. "The general public's awareness of physics and its importance in our daily life is decreasing," says the European Physical Society, the international coordinator of the Einstein Year. "The number of physics students has declined dramatically."

    So physicists latched onto the iconic image of Einstein as a way to get the attention of science students. "You rarely get a chance to have a cultural icon that's so closely aligned with the message you want to deliver and who has become sort of timeless," said Tobin, of Brogan & Partners.

    Overwhelmingly, however, the icon most of these organizations chose was the old Einstein. Where is the young, cool Einstein?

    "The most persistent myth about Einstein is that he was born at the age of 50," said Michel Janssen, a science and technology historian at the University of Minnesota who edited several volumes of Einstein's collected papers. He was quoting a favorite saying of John Stachel, the founding editor of the Einstein Papers Project.

    The image of the wild-haired professor at Princeton as the talisman of genius is ineffective, said Jeetendr Sehdev, a brand strategist for Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, the New York-based advertising and public relations conglomerate, who said the "iconic image has a polarizing effect on young scholars considering studying physics."

    "Some students pride themselves on being Young Einsteins, but other students are turned off by the images' unfashionable and stodgy appeal," Sehdev said.

    But Tobin argues that trying to reshape Einstein's image could muddy his universally recognized brand, which is a proven winner. It runs "the risk of trying to take an icon and pull him out of icon status."

    The old Einstein "is what we now associate with brilliance and what we associate with the breakthrough ideas," he added. "I think you run the risk of losing the effectiveness of the image in an ad."

    Sehdev, who researches the youth market, acknowledged the universality of the old Einstein and said the image could still be powerful if used the right way. But he would hedge his bets by exploiting ignorance about Einstein as a young man.

    Paper #5

    "Albert Einstein - an icon of the 20th century - some myths"


    Zofia Gołąb-Meyer

    Spring 2006

    Albert Einstein is one of the icons of the 20th century. He is also considered one of "twelve men who were inflaming women with desire, because they sacrificed love for a higher cause, and men with jealousy, because of their passion, fame, wealth and skills of seducing" (description from a popular journal). Among those twelve there was only one scientist. Indeed, in terms of popularity Einstein matched the greatest stars of cinema and sport. He became one of the symbols of the 20th century. His face is recognized even by children in remote corners of the world.

    The 20th century abounded with prominent physicists who changed the face of physics. Einstein occupies an extraordinary position among those greats.

    Having established the general theory of relativity, he became one of the three greatest physicists in history. Newton, Maxwell and Einstein form this great trio.

    Einstein's status as an icon of the 20th century is well justified, but the public has not really appreciated the significance of his discoveries. Einstein became a legend during his lifetime, but a number of incorrect ideas about him have contributed to the rise of his legend.

    It is not true that Einstein was engaged in physics "for only twenty years", and that "the rest of his life he devoted to music, family, and social activities in aid of peace." The entire sense of Einstein's life was physics.

    And, even though it is true that (what has been awkwardly named) The Special Theory of Relativity (1905) was about to be discovered by other scientists (H. Poincar and others were close to a similar discovery), it was Einstein who clearly formulated the theory, thanks to his extraordinary intuition. Yet, it was not for this theory that he was awarded the Nobel Prize. He received it for his explanation of the photoelectric effect.

    Einstein's greatest achievement, the one that elevated him to the top rank among physicists, is general relativity, which is the theory of gravitation in relation to the geometry of physical space and time. At the time of its discovery, this theory could not be anticipated from any experiment or physical phenomenon. Formulating such a theory required great intellectual courage and effort. Having developed it, he was so confident that he pretended to be disinterested in the results of the only measurements that were possible at the time to prove the theory (Eddington's observations of the deflection of starlight during a solar eclipse.)

    Nowadays, although not many people are aware of it, Einstein's theory is used in global positioning systems. The precision of GPS is contingent upon calculations which have to include the effects of general relativity.

    After the discovery of this theory Einstein started to work on another problem, one which has not yet been solved: the unification of gravitational interactions with other interactions. In order to understand the meaning of the unification of interactions, it is worth recalling a few facts from the history of physics. By formulating the famous law of gravity, Newton unified phenomena that take place on the earth (falling objects) and ones in space (the movement of planets). Maxwell is included into the great trio because he ultimately unified electric interactions with magnetic interactions. Today we understand that the force which attracts dust particles and creates thunderbolts originates from the same interaction that deter-mines the position of a magnetic needle. This "electromagnetic interaction" also enables us to generate and receive radio waves, and we now know that light is also an electromagnetic wave. Einstein recognized the need for the unification of the fundamental interactions and spent the rest of his life on this problem. He failed to solve it. Important experiments were conducted in later years, after the nature of all interactions had been better understood, but the road towards a successful solution of the unification problem is still ahead of us even though success has been achieved in unifying the electromagnetic interaction and the so-called weak nuclear interaction. Numerous groups of prominent physicists have been working on this problem for many years. Einstein worked alone.

    Pondering the physical problems, that one in particular, and physics in general (Einstein was also a philosopher) filled Einstein's life. He joined the peace movement not because of his keen interest in social activities, but because of a sense of obligation. He was well aware of his popularity and the authority he enjoyed. He used his image for the purpose of propagating pacifism. After World War I, he was severely criticized for his pacifistic ideas. He was one among innumerable intellectuals in Europe who had been seduced neither by nationalistic ideals nor by communism. He was a super-intelligent individualist, with his feet firmly on the ground.

    Einstein, like every famous person, was extremely popular among women. Quite possibly, he occasionally might have taken advantage of this. Nonetheless, he reserved his emotions only for physics.

    He was neither a perfect husband nor a perfect father. The primary thing he expected from family life was absolute quietness. His first marriage, to his university friend Mileva Marič, did not stand the trial of time. Many unfavorable circumstances contributed to its failure: a premarital child (a girl) who had been given up for adoption, a poor financial situation and a family life that had been interfering with his intensive thinking about physics. Two children (boys) and a neurotic wife in a poor household certainly must have distracted the genius from his work. Perhaps he was happy to escape to the comfortable and petit bourgeois house of his remote cousin Elsa.

    It seems that the long-lasting relationship with Elsa could only have worked because she created for him a comfortable asylum that kept him away from mundane matters. It is hard to say what kind of happiness Einstein found in this relationship. Most likely he did not search for it; Elsa said nothing about it. Was she happy? She was not very young when she married Einstein. She had the opportunity to understand him well and she accepted her role. Einstein donated his Nobel Prize to Mileva, his first wife, not to get rid of the problem and preserve his good image (he was already a public person); he was truly concerned about her and their sons (one of them had already been showing serious symptoms of a mental illness).

    While he had been able to enjoy intellectual conversation with Mileva (though it is not true that she allegedly contributed to the discovery of the special theory of relativity), in this respect Elsa was not a match for him. Among other women who were absolutely devoted to him was Helen Dukas, his perennial secretary and later a warden of his heritage. Einstein was also close to his sister Maia and stepdaughter Margot. However, it seems he never considered women as equal partners. Undoubtedly he felt respect for Maria Skłodowska-Curie and there was a sort of friendship between them.

    Einstein did not exchange many letters with women. He put correspondence from his numerous fans, often well-known women, into a special box for letters from cranks. Hence, his exchange of letters with the wife of a great physicist, Max Born, were exceptional; the two of them discussed various ethical problems.

    Until the end of his life Einstein was an active physicist and philosopher. Like many other famous physicists of the time, he enjoyed relaxing with music. And in the way he performed physics he was like a great artist.

    The story that Einstein was allegedly a poor student and that he had problems in school is unproven. He showed his talents very early. As a high school student, he demonstrated great independence of thought and opinion. At that time he clearly showed his aptitude for mathematics and his passion for science. He already had a deep interest in philosophy and literature. He was, however, poor at foreign languages. He did not believe in wasting time on things he didn't like.

    Unlike young Smoluchowski in Vienna, who had been lucky to be introduced into physics by Hoefler, Einstein did not find such a tutor and mentor in the Leopold's High School in Munich. Yet his teacher in Munich recognized his great talent and let him organize his course of study individually. This was quite un-usual for a German school known for its strictness, but how can we blame a teacher who could not match his genius student?

    Einstein did not like Munich and eventually he moved to Switzerland to a modern school in Aarau, where he could catch up on his education. Without protest he subjected himself to the school discipline. He managed to do this relatively easily, as he established peer friendships, which are so important for maturing men.

    As physicists, we are glad it turned out that capricious public opinion made Einstein an idol of the 20th century. And even though we have to tolerate the fact that his image diverges from reality, we can strive to learn the truth about the person he was.

    2005 was the "Einstein year". Scientists celebrated the insights of the young Einstein and the accelerating pace of cosmic discovery that has stemmed from them. But the old Einstein was also celebrated - the benign and unkempt sage of poster and T-shirt became an icon of creativity and an inspiration for campaigners against nuclear proliferation. Among other scientists, perhaps only Darwin has achieved such broad cultural resonances: He was utterly different in intellectual style but was, like Einstein, engaged in a quest for "origins" and for unifying concepts.

    What might "new Einsteins" achieve in the 21st century? Science offers more intellectual challenges than ever but is a less individualistic enterprise. Technology offers imense opportunities but poses threats and ethical dilemmas. Can scientists retain public confidence? And can science permeate our culture and politics without undue distortion?

    "I Discovered the Theory of Relativity and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt"


    Judy Jackson

    His mug's on mugs,
    Bears wear his hair;
    Albert turns up everywhere.

    His famed equation greets the eyes
    From every form of merchandise;
    T-shirts and ties he doth adorn.
    Is there Albert Einstein porn?

    Tots and geezers recognize him;
    Every market sector buys him.
    The world, it seems, will never weary
    Of him and his relativity theory.

    Year after year, folks take a likin�
    To Einstein as a cultural icon.
    Font of a vast commercial venture, he
    Made Time magazine's "Man of the Century."

    Who'd have thought a patent clerk
    Would rise above that line of work
    To symbolize for humankind
    The greatness of the human mind?

    That hair, that tongue, that life, that brain-
    Remind us of all we might attain.
    Would Albert E. have found it rich
    To have become the king of kitsch?

    Symmetry, Volume 2, Issue 1, 2005

    No comments: