July 15, 2005

Grokking Einstein's Big Idea: The Legacy of E=mc2

Albert Einstein has really got me...

I had seen the phrase E=mc2 since I was maybe eight of nine years old. To me, it was almost like Mickey Mouse's ears, or Groucho's moustache. It was an enigmatic icon of popular culture; a meme that seemed to be all over the place.

As a kid, when I read the letters on the page of a book or wherever I first saw them, I interpreted the phrase as "E equals em see two". I had absolutely no idea what an exponent was, much less what Einstein's famous formula actually represented.

It is still a bit of a struggle for me as an adult. I rank E=mc2 as one of the most important discoveries (or dare I say 'truths') of this century. As part of my belief system, I'm sure it would practically eclipse all religious beliefs in significance, it I could just figure out what it was all about. (Perhaps I am as blind in my faith in science as I assume religious zealots to be in their religion. I am comfortable being that guy.)

In my most recent attempt to read Einstein's book on the theory of Relativity, it stumped me. I got farther than last time, but it still lost me somewhere after the "Lorentz transformation". So, I dug out my copy of "The Illustrated Brief History of Time" and have now almost completed it. (Thank you Professor Stephen Hawking!)

That little detour sort of primed the pump of physics comprehension for me. However, in spite of that, I still didn't pick up the Einstein book again. Perhaps part of me was still a little bit intimidated. I thought that maybe there might be some good tutorials or explanations for kids (high school through college) on the web, which could help me even more.

And of course there were. Most notably, I found a PBS web site for a NOVA TV program called "Einstein's Big Idea: The Legacy of E=mc2". This is a documentary which will air on PBS in October 2005. On the program's companion web site, there is some good introductory and background material which I would recommend to anyone before diving into the Professor's book.

NOVA | Einstein's Big Idea | The Legacy of E = mc2 | PBS

Explanations and the impact of E=mc2, from 10 prominent physicists

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