Einstein’s Annus Mirabilis

By Avi Banerjee

(Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Math, History tutor at The Edge Learning Center )

As I was teaching SAT Physics, I was reminded of the progress the science has made in the last hundred years. Take the year 1905, Einstein’s Annus Mirabilis. Over the course of a single calendar year Einstein published four ground breaking papers that shook the scientific community.

The Photoelectric effect, the basic principle behind solar panels which may be the humanity’s best hope of combating climate change. The very nature of light was a hotly disputed subject within physics throughout the 19th century.  In March 18th, Einstein submitted his article titled “On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light”. Einstein proved that light exhibits both wavelike and particle-like properties. Light is able to travel through the vacuum of space as it is comprised of photons (i.e. pockets of energy quanta). It is this principle that explains how incident light on a material (shinny metals) excite electrons to higher energy levels – thus converting light energy into electrical energy.

On July 18th, Einstein published his second article of the year titled “On the Motion of Small Particles Suspended in a Stationary Liquid, as Required by the Molecular Kinetic Theory of Heat”. In this paper Einstein using observations of Brownian motion found the evidence that matter is composed of molecules. Not a small achievement, but in 1905 this is perhaps the least significant of Einstein’s discoveries.

Einstein’s third paper, titled “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” published on September 26th, combined Maxwell’s equations on electro-magnetism and classical mechanics. The results were earth shattering. If Einstein’s two postulates (laws of physics are constant for all inertial frame of references & the speed of light is the same in all frames of references) held true, then the Gallian transformations are not valid for relativistic speeds. The concluded with the theory of special relativity that established the concepts for the theory of time, distance, mass, and energy during relativistic frames of references. It would take a further 10 years for Einstein to publish hi the theory for general relativity, with further additions being made by other scientists in the succeeding four decades. None the less, by the autumn of 1905, the global scientific community was eagerly awaiting to see what this obscure patent clerk in the mountains of Switzerland would come up with next.

Finally, on November 21st, Einstein’s paper titled “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?”, proclaimed the most famous scientific equation, E = mc2. The mass-energy equivalency would begin the ground work for quantum mechanics and our basic understanding of molecules. It was this discovery that would lead to the understanding of nuclear fusion and fission energy, which in 1945 would be used to develop the atomic bombs that dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Science has had many great leaps since Einstein’s magical year. Yet even today, in the age of constant information, with a greater availability for quality education to a much wider percentage of the global population, no scientist since has had their own 1905.


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