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Thursday September 18, 2014
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03-046 The Phenomenon of Albert Einstein II

Thursday Sep 18, 2014

Lead: After fifteen years of relative obscurity Albert Einstein emerged as a public figure of great fascination to millions of people. He was, however, a most curious superstar.

Tag: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: In November 1919 the Royal Society of London announced that a team of astronomers had photographed a total solar eclipse on Principe (Prin-ce-pe) Island in the Gulf of Guinea off the western coast of Africa. Their calculations confirmed the general theory of relativity formulated by a little-known German physicist, Albert Einstein. Einstein had asserted that Isaac Newton's description of gravity as a force was inaccurate. Gravitation, according to Einstein, was a curved field created by the presence of matter. The British astronomers confirmed this theory by demonstrating that starlight passing close to the sun on its way to the earth would be bent by the gravitational pull of the sun.

Within weeks of the announcement, Albert Einstein was a household name. Front page articles in the world great newspapers trumpeted his achievement. While his theories had been debated by his colleagues for many years, few outside the scientific community had heard of him or understood his ideas. Relativity is a dense, exotic, and difficult to explain concept even in the late twentieth century. The alleged difficulty in understanding his work added to the mystery and charisma surrounding Einstein. He was not always comfortable with his notoriety, but he was good press and was widely sought as a lecturer and advisor on matters scientific and technical.

Because of personal convictions and his fame he was increasingly drawn into matters of social justice and world politics. He renounced his German citizenship in the wake of Adolf Hitler's electoral victory and settled in Princeton, New Jersey as one of the early scholars at the Institute of Advanced Study. His letter to Franklin Roosevelt highlighting the opportunities as well as the dangers of atomic research help set in motion the process leading to the first nuclear weapon.

Next time: Einstein and the clock theory.

In Richmond, Virginia, this is Dan Roberts.

Resources

Bronowski, J. "The Clock Paradox,"

Crelinsten, Jeffrey. "Einstein, Relativity, and the Press: The Myth of Incomprehensibility," The Physics Teacher (February, 1980): 115-122.

Dyson, Freeman J. "Will Man Survive in the Cosmos?," Outposts.

Missner, Marshall. "Why Einstein Became Famous in America," Social Studies of Science 15 (1985): 267-291.

Rosenfeld, Albert. "A Three Million Year Trip in Fifty-Five Years," Life (May 24, 1963): 35-37.

Westin, R. Barry. "American Response to the Concept of Time in Relativity Theory with Particular Attention to the Twins Paradox," unpublished essay, August 3, 1988.

Copyright 2014 by Dan Roberts Enterprises, Inc.

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