March 14: Celebrating Einstein

Mar 10, 2013 By Sarah Charley
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The name “Einstein” is perhaps even more well-known than the man who originally made it famous—Albert Einstein. Everyone has heard of Einstein, but how many people know who Albert Einstein actually was? Or what he actually did? (Besides being really, really smart, of course.)

In honor of Albert Einstein’s 134th birthday, we here at Youngzine want to examine the man behind the name and what he did to make him into the iconic figure he is today.

Not Just Physics….Theoretical Physics

Albert Einstein was no ordinary scientist—he was what we call a theoretical physicist. A theoretical physicist is essentially a philosopher, except instead of contemplating things related to humans (like life, love, and values,) theoretical physicists contemplate the universe. They use math to find relationships between matter and energy…and more importantly, they try to define what matter and energy actually are!

E = MC-squared

The thing that made Einstein famous was a simple equation he developed to describe the relationship between energy and matter: E = MC2, or Energy = Matter X Speed of Light X Speed of Light.

But what does this mean? This relatively simple equation says that matter and energy are the same thing, and that you can actually convert one to the other, and back again! Weird!

Matter and energy convert from one to the other all the time. For instance, when you turn on a flashlight, the flashlight actually gets lighter as some of the mass (from the batteries) is converted into light (which is a form of energy.) But this is at such a small scale that it is almost impossible to observe without either very sensitive equipment or A LOT of matter converting into A LOT of energy (like at a nuclear power plant.)

Space? Time? Or Spacetime?

If you’re a fan of science fiction, you might have read stories about space explorers traversing the universe at the speed of light, and when they finally return to earth, their friends had aged significantly, while they themselves had stayed young.

But how can that be? Doesn’t time affect everyone equally? Isn’t a year for me the same as a year for you? One of Einstein’s most startling discoveries is that time is not the same for everyone. In fact, your “experience” of time is a function of how fast you are traveling! This is Einstein’s theory of relativity, and very important for any sort of research involving things moving fast…really…really…fast.

In the 1970’s, scientists were actually able to physically observe this phenomenon. They flew an atomic clock around the world twice, and when the clock returned, it was a few nanoseconds behind the stationary clock on earth, proving that less time had elapsed on the jetliner than on the ground. This experiment has been replicated time and time again, and all the results agree—time distorts at high speeds through space.

Miracle anti-aging remedy, or freaky phenomenon?