After Hours

Geek Trivia: Eye for an Einstein

How did Albert Einstein express his infamous energy-mass equivalence equation in its original 1905 publication, wherein the mathematical construct bore little resemblance to its most famous incarnation, E=mc<sup>2</sup>?

On Nov. 9, 1921, Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect, just one of five seminal papers he published in what history would call his Annus Mirabilis or "Year of Wonders." Einstein's other four 1905 papers touched on molecular dimensions, Brownian motion, and -- to ensure Uncle Albert's everlasting fame -- special relativity and energy-mass equivalence.

While all five of these papers bear some interrelation beyond sharing the same genius author -- after all, they're conjoined by the principles of modern physics -- special relativity and energy-mass equivalence are particularly and rather famously intertwined.

Without getting too technical (mostly because this Trivia Geek is no quantum physicist), Einstein's special relativity made the bold assertion that the speed of light is a fixed constant and that the progress of time is variable -- rather than the other way around. This refuted the rules laid down by the godfather of physics, Isaac Newton, which held that speed is relative and time is a constant.

When observed as a fixed constant, the speed of light can unlock other key characteristics of space and time -- namely, the relationship between matter and energy. Again, to grossly simplify, all matter is merely bound energy. With a simple formula, you can thus convert all matter in the universe into the currency of energy, which makes untold calculations possible by virtue of a simple equation. You've probably heard of it: E=mc2.

Technically speaking, E=mc2 is the core equation for an object's rest energy, which is to say the energy possessed by an object when it isn't moving and isn't in a position to move. (It's actually a rather minor component of Einstein's larger theory of General Relativity.) That is, rest energy is separate from kinetic or potential energy, which were the bread-and-butter forces of classical Newtonian mechanics.

Einstein proved that even apart from movement, all objects that possess mass also possess energy. You can find out exactly how much energy with the simple calculation of mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light, E=mc2.

The crazy thing is, you won't find this famous equation in any of Einstein's papers published before, during, or after 1905. That's because Einstein never wrote his most famous equation in its most famous form.

Instead, he earned his scientific accolades expressing energy-mass equivalence very differently.

WHAT WAS THE ORIGINAL FORMULATION OF E=mc2 AS WRITTEN BY EINSTEIN?

Get the answer.

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

33 comments
rreinha2
rreinha2

Where's * 1/(1-v^2/c^2)^1/2?

nighthawk808
nighthawk808

I used to wear this shirt to the first day of each of my math classes while I was an undergrad: http://tinyurl.com/ysuwhd Only one of my professors ever seemed to get it, but that's probably because the third equation isn't particularly well-known outside of chemistry (although it's the source of an untold number of bad "pervnert" jokes).

rob_cranfill
rob_cranfill

I am not fluent in German, by any means, but I think I can pick a nit with that translation. Jay wrote "Gibt ein Korper die Energie L in Form von Strahlung ab, so verkleinert sich seine Masse um L/V2." This translates as: "If a body gives off the energy L in the form of radiation, its mass diminishes by L/V2."? German likes to put in lots of the definite article ("die" in German, "the" in English) that English speakers would leave out. Hence, I think a better translation would be "If a body gives off energy L in the form of radiation, its mass diminishes by L/V2." (And "V2" is a clumsy way to indicate 'squared', but I'll leave that alone.) - rob

Marty-7
Marty-7

"Annus Mirabilis"? Annus is "Year", but I can't find an online translator that likes "Mirabilis". ??

tommy.petersson
tommy.petersson

Nobelprize.org: "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1921 was announced on November 9, 1922"

JohnE91
JohnE91

The article makes at least two references to quantum physicists; quantum mechanics and relativity are independent concepts. In fact, Einstein was skeptical of quantum mechanics in general, and spent much of his career looking for an alternative. Ironically, his 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect was one of the first to introduce the notion of the quantum; it's almost as if he won the Nobel Prize for something he didn't really believe in.

Jaqui
Jaqui

V as used in the equation would not be specifically the speed of light, V is the still used symbol for a Velocity [ known or not ] The C used for the speed of light came about after it was accepted that it is a constant not a variable. so dM=kL/V^2 would be the change of MASS is equivalent to the constant Loss of energy / the constant Velocity of Light squared.

FitzMac
FitzMac

This is a quibble with the [responses to the] quibble. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd Ed.), the earliest example yet found of 'jerry-built' dates from 1869, so it can't be connected to WWII. And to say that it's OK to write 'jerry-rig' just because people have in the past conflated 'jury-rig' and 'jerry-built' is a recipe for linguistic anarchy.

Bill Ward
Bill Ward

Jay, Einstein said that Delta(M) is PROPORTIONAL to L/V^2; that means that Einstein's equation can only be dM=kL/V^2 if you go with an equality operation. The reason for the k, of course, is to represent some constant that would be used to properly specify a unit conversion rate. By properly choosing your units, you can set k=1 (which is what the SI system allows).

allisonmea
allisonmea

I believe, though I'm not fully convinced that Einstein may possibly have read the following poem prior to penning his dubiously infamous Equation... There once was a man from Spokane, (spo can) Whose verses never would scan. When told it was so, He said, "Yes I know!". But I always try to get as many words in the last line that I possibly can! It takes some meditation and reflection to see the connection. Should Dylan have said, "Lie lady lie" rather than "Lay lady lay"? And another thing, formulae are for babies. Real men learn by trial and learning i.e. Madame Curie.

clipvst
clipvst

Now THAT is the definition of geeky!! But funny! :-) BTW: The 3rd equation is pivotal for thermo... doesn't every engineer pretty have it burned into their memory?

seanferd
seanferd

I was going to say that the Trivia Geek was not alone. Some people go so far as to say that Einstein was the last of the classical physicists. Despite his contributions to quantum physics, he really didn't like the quantum paradigm, particularly the notion of randomness. Interestingly, Einstein's model of gravitation is still irreconcilable with quantum models.

Norgit
Norgit

I was told that Jerry built was a Biblical reference to the walls of Jericho which came tumbling down after a blast from the Israelites trumpets

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

If you want to see anarchy, take a quick look at what the kinder are using as a language when they send instant messages (http://www.buzzwhack.com/inside/buzzimglish.htm). This is our future English. Do you still want to complain about anarchy because somebody confused jerry-built with jury-rig?

Snak
Snak

Linguistic Anarchy already exists. In the 'old days', it was up to the writer to ensure the reader understood what was being written. These days it seems the onus is on the reader to determine what the writer is trying to say. My pet bug-bears are: The confusion between 'your' and 'you're'. The ignorance of 'where', 'were', we're' and occasionally 'wear'. The incorrect use of 'their', 'there' and 'they're'. The increasingly prevalent use of 'you should of...' or 'you could of...', instead of 'should have', and 'could have'. I appreciate that schools these days promote actual 'communication' rather than worrying about spelling and I know language evolves (dost thou not knoweth?). I also appreciate that we all (me included) make the odd spelling mistake, but the above examples make the writer look stupid, which is a shame, 'cos I'm sure most of them are not.

Styopa
Styopa

Whichever system of units you use, the unit of energy is derived from the fundamental units of length, mass and time. There's no place or need for a constant in Einstein's equation - that's why it allowed him, later, to predict the phenomenal amount of energy that could be unleashed by nuclear fission. In 1905, of course, with no obvious practical means of converting rest mass into energy, their equivalence must have seemed like an intriguing academic diversion.

CBS224
CBS224

At the top of the second page, you describe the equation as infamous. Did you really mean that it 1) has an extremely bad reputation: an infamous city or 2) is deserving of or causing an evil reputation; shamefully malign; detestable: an infamous deed. While I acknowledge that it is a difficult concept to get one's mind around, I think you were trying to say that the equation is very or justly famous.

Marty-7
Marty-7

I don't understand why it wouldn't translate, but thanx for the info. Maybe because it's referred to as "New" Latin? (What was wrong with the "old" one? Oh well...) Thanx!

Snak
Snak

And yes, I too abhore the incorrect use's of "'s" plural's - I find it really pain's me. The IM point is well taken - and if SMS's (interesting one that) were reasonably priced or the small character limit removed, I bet people wud stl tk n shrthnd due 2 time restraint's or idleitis (LOVE that one: idle it is - Question: is "idleit's" ever permissable, lol). This's getting silly now.

CBS224
CBS224

There is another construction that seems to be coming into commoon usage and that is the use of bring instead of take, i.e. I'll bring that to him. I've heard well educated people use this one so it is not just street slang.

Roscojim
Roscojim

I agree with your pet peeves, but there's one that annoys me more than any of those, and that's the use of apostrophes in plurals. I've seen this on a billboard, for pete's sake - "Come to our casino's". How stupid is that??!! It just screams, "I'm an IDIOT!!" I can see people accidentally misspelling something, but I see that misuse in e-mails (e-mail's), on signs (sign's), in ads (ad's), everywhere. Drives me NUTS!!

derbes
derbes

'cos? or because?

deepsand
deepsand

Einstein's statement, as presented, does [b]not define[/b] any particular system of measurement. Therefore, it is a statement re. [i]proportionality[/i], [b]not[/b] one of [i]equality[/i].

franco.pinasco
franco.pinasco

It indeed can have a bad reputation... as this equation allowed the creation of a nuclear bomb... with a few grams in m, you will see how much energy is released.

FiOS-Dave
FiOS-Dave

I cringe when I hear someone say I got this off the internet, or it is off this album, etc. From is a perfectly normal word, and it sounds so much more educated...

fisher_james_m
fisher_james_m

How about irregardless when they mean reagardless? Or the poor souls that cannot figure out when to use I, Me or Myself... makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up!

seanferd
seanferd

one personal favorite: class of "07". Abbreviated forms seem to sustain more abuse than their more formal cousins.

FiOS-Dave
FiOS-Dave

E-mails drives me nuts! I don't get mails, I get mail. I get LOTS of mail (NOT mails) I get LOTS of e-mail (NOT E-mails, but definitely SPAM (not SPAMS!) Dave

Poodoo999
Poodoo999

Add another to the list--using "it's" instead of "its" which is my biggest pet peeve. Don't schools even teach the difference anymore? And then there's the whole issue of using spell check instead of actually reading and editing. This morning, our local newspaper made reference to the $25 bill! Granted, it was talking about counterfeit bills, so maybe they really were $25 bills, but I kind of don't think so.

rkendsley
rkendsley

The "cos" reference appears to be tongue-in-cheek rather than being moronic.

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