The Modern Revolution in Physics

The Modern Revolution in Physics

Benjamin Crowell
Published in: Light and Matter
Release Year: 2003
ISBN: 0-9704670-6-0
Pages: 138
Edition: First Edition
File Size: 5 MB
File Type: pdf
Language: English

Description of The Modern Revolution in Physics

Complaining about the educational system is a national sport among professors in the U.S., and I, like my colleagues, am often tempted to imagine a golden age of education in our country’s past or to compare our system unfavorably with foreign ones. Reality intrudes, however, when my immigrant students recount the overemphasis on rote memorization in their native countries, and the philosophy that what the teacher says is always right, even when it’s wrong.
Albert Einstein’s education in late-nineteenth-century Germany was neither modern nor liberal. He did well in the early grades, but in high school and college he began to get in trouble for what today’s speak calls “critical thinking.” Indeed, there was much that deserved criticism in the state of physics at that time. There was a subtle contradiction between the theory of light as a wave and Galileo’s principle that all motion is relative. As a teenager, 
Einstein began thinking about this on an intuitive basis, trying to imagine what a light beam would look like if you could ride along beside it on a motorcycle at the speed of light. Today we remember him most of all for his radical and far-reaching solution to this contradiction, his theory of relativity, but in his student years, his insights were greeted with derision from his professors. One called him a “lazy dog.” Einstein’s distaste for authority was typified by his decision as a teenager to renounce his German citizenship and become a stateless person, based purely on his opposition to the militarism and repressiveness of German society. He spent his most productive scientific years in Switzerland and Berlin, first as a patent clerk but later as a university professor. He was an outspoken pacifist and a stubborn opponent of World War I, shielded from retribution by his eventual acquisition of Swiss citizenship.
As the epochal nature of his work became evident, some liberal Germans began to point to him as a model of the “new German,” but after the Nazi coup d’etat, staged public meetings began, at which Nazi scientists criticized the work of this ethnically Jewish (but spiritually nonconformist) giant of science. When Hitler was appointed chancellor, Einstein was on a stint as a visiting professor at Caltech, and he never returned to the Nazi state. World War II convinced Einstein to soften his strict pacifist stance, and he signed a secret letter to President Roosevelt urging research into the building of a nuclear bomb, a device that could not have been imagined without his theory of relativity. He later wrote, however, that when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed, it made him wish he could burn off his own fingers for having signed the letter.

Content of The Modern Revolution in Physics

1 Relativity 13
2 Rules of Randomness 43
3 Light as a Particle 67
4 Matter as a Wave 85
5 The Atom 111
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