Science14 Aug 2008 11:34 am
Albert Einstein formulated the world’s most famous equation in 1905, a year that has rightly been called his annus mirabilis, or “Wonderful Year.” It was in that same year that he made three other important discoveries:
1) The Photoelectric Effect
The Photoelectric Effect is an odd property of light: shine a light on a sheet of paper with two small holes on it, and the pattern formed by the light passing through the holes doesn’t quite behave the way you’d expect. The expectations before 1905 were based on the theory that light is a wave, but Einstein postulated another possibility. Or, rather, he postulated three: perhaps light isn’t only a wave; and perhaps something can be matter and a wave at the same time; and perhaps matter can have a mass of zero. With those new assumptions, Einstein solved the problem of the Photoelectric Effect. Even he considered this revolutionary.
2) Brownian Motion
Go to the nearest body of water, look at the surface, and you’re likely to witness an odd phenomenon: pollen zipping around the surface of the water in seemingly random ways. This is called “Brownian Motion.” Einstein explained how it happens, and, in doing so, proved the existence of atoms.
3) The Theory of Special Relativity
Years before formulating his General Theory of Relativity, Einstein postulated a theory that works in a special case: for bodies moving close to the speed of light. The Devoted Intellectual does not pretend to understand this one, but feel free to chime in with your explanations…
And what about that famous equation? It appeared in a fourth paper. In a footnote. Almost an after-thought in a year of magical thinking.
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