Black holes, relativity, Einstein, space-time continuum, and billions of galaxies.
Walter Isaacson’s “Einstein: His Life and Universe” is a challenging tome. Isaacson consults with leading physicists and mathematicians to explain Einstein’s theory of relativity and particle theory.
What you will learn.
a) The “speed of light” is constant. Time, therefore, is relative.
b) Light has attributes of wave lengths and particles.
Mind blowing thoughts:
a) There is an estimated 100 billion galaxies.
b) Although we view the Milky Way galaxy to be flat, we could be wrong. It could be so massive that we are only detecting the observable features on the surface. The analogy of us looking out on the ocean horizon, and thinking our line of sight is the edge of the world. Could our visible galaxy be a tiny section of a much larger sphere?
Einstein did not expect his E=mc² formula to lead to atomic energy, as least not in his lifetime. When he was informed of a successful fission experiment in the 1930s, he was incredulous. Once he found the report was true, he understood the destructive potential of weaponizing atomic power. The ingenuity of mankind is illustrated with the advent of atomic energy. It took less than 40 years from the publication of his formula before Little Boy and Fat Boy would take the lives of hundreds of thousands of Hiroshima and Nagasaki residents, and nuclear power plants would power thousands of homes.
Be careful what you think, because it just might come true.
Theories, Tools, Simulations
Mankind’s search for truth has been limited to the tools available to the scientists during their time.
The Telescope, Galielo and Heliocentrism
The telescope was invented by German-Dutch lensmaker Hans Lippershey in 1608. Once Italian astronomer Galielo Galilei heard about Lippershey’s invention, he improved the invention and was the first to use it for astronomical purposes in 1610.
With the telescope, Galielo was able to prove that indeed the sun is the center of our galaxy.
The Periodic Table and Mendeleev
Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev formally presented the periodic table to the Russian Chemical Society on March 6, 1869. His table did not include the noble gasses. In the 1890’s, British chemist Sir William Ramsay and British physicist John William Strutt (better know as Lord Rayleigh) discovered noble gasses, including nitrogen, argon and helium.
The periodic table has lead to innovations in the fields of chemistry and material sciences. Industries including plastics, petroleum, chemicals, and medicine are the wellspring resulting from the utilization of Mendeleev’s table.
The Compound Microscope, Anton van Leeuwenhoek and Microbiology
Prior to van Leeuwenhoek’s invention around 1668, microscopes were limited to 20x or 30x magnification. His microscope could reach greater than 200x magnification. Van Leeuwenhoek was the first person to observe a single-celled organism. This discovered led to the founding of the field of microbiology. This field would later be made famous by Louis Pasteur in the latter part of the 19th century. Pasteur was credited with creating the pasteurization method for food preservation and developing vaccinations for anthrax, cholera and rabies.
The Atom, Ancient Greece and Bohr
The word “atom” was coined by ancient Greek philosophers. The concept is that matter is made up of discrete units. Without tools like the compound microscope and precision scales, the Greek concept would remain a thought experiment. It would be more than 2000 years before 19th century chemist, meteorologist and physicist John Dalton would use the concept of the atom to explain why elements react in ratios of whole numbers. Subsequent discoveries would show that atoms had subatomic particles. Physicists including Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrodinger added to our understanding of the quantum nature of the atom. Quantum mechanics in turn has led to inventions including the transistor (thus the microchip), the electron microscope, the laser, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
DNA and The Double Helix
DNA was first isolated by Swiss physician Fredrich Miescher in 1869. In 1951, James Watson and Francis Crick suggested the first correct double-helix model in the journal “Nature”. With these discoveries came the birth of molecular biology. The Human Genome Project (HGP) was completed in 2003. The HGP found there are approximately 20,500 human genes. The results of the project provided the location of these genes, and also insight into the structure, organization and function of human genes.
Computers, Telecommunications and the Internet
The first programmable computer was created by German Konrad Zuse between 1936 and 1938. The machine was called the Z1. The telegraph was invented by Samuel Morse in the 1830s and 1840s pioneering the telecommunication industry. The first message was sent over ARPANET in 1969.
Particular with compute power exponentially increasing, scientists have simulation and data processing power to help unlock the mysteries of our universe.
Here’s some challenges scientists have yet to solve.
- Does dark matter exist?
- What are the properties of dark matter (if it indeed exists)?
- Personal, side-effect free, and efficacious treatment of diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and muscular diseases.
- Restore and reverse deterioration caused by aging and disease.
- Predict weather patterns months to years into the future with precision.
- Methods to control and disperse or minimize catastrophic natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and droughts.
- Materials to capture, store and transport energy to provide ubiquitous energy without the need for energy derived from fossil fuels.
- Data compression and wave technology for inexpensive, high-speed and ubiquitous wireless communication.
What simulation vindicated Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?
The solar eclipse of September 22, 1919 provided the necessary data so English astronomer Arthur Eddington could measure different light measurements from the Amazon jungle in Brazil with one remote team, and another team, himself included, in the Portuguese island colony of Principe.
Eddington’s took photos which showed a light deflection that corresponded with Einstein’s formula.
Data everywhere, waiting for capture, analysis, and explanation
We have tools to produce and measure a multitude of different wavelengths. Telescopes and satellites can capture large data sets and peer deep into the heavens. Microscopes and scientific instruments provide molecular and sub-molecular information. Storage is expanding to hold and retrieve this ever expanding data. AI and compute power is available to make sense of revealing patterns. VR offers simulations in 3 rather than 2 dimensions.
We have come a long ways since Einstein’s time. The man famous for encouraging imagination for scientific discovery was uniquely skilled in formulating theories with small sets of data.
Today’s scientists are well-advised to be creative, but are advantaged over the spiky-haired Princeton professor. They have access to far more powerful tools to test, dismiss, correct, and prove promising theories. More foundational hard science will be discovered, and thus the virtuous cycle will continue. We need more Einsteinian scientists who can bring optimism, imagination and creativity to the scientific process. The “giant leaps” of mankind are coming faster and faster, but there remains a multitude of challenges awaiting elegant solutions.