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The International Year of the Light – Einstein Centenary

Authored By: 
Linli Chin, Math & Science Teacher

A new theory, proposed by Einstein at the Prussian Academy of Science in Berlin 100 years ago this month, was set to revolutionize the way we viewed space, time, light and the universe around us! This general (and special) theory of relativity demonstrated how two observers, relative to each other, would not experience time and space equally. After a decade of calculation, he reached his conclusion: gravity is a product of warped space-time. The sun keeps Earth in orbit not by exerting a physical force on it, but because its mass distorts the surrounding space and forces Earth to move that way. In the words of physicist John Archibald Wheeler, “space tells matter how to move and matter tells space how to curve.”[1]

Special relativity, which focuses on non-accelerating objects, states that the speed of light in a vacuum (approximately 671 million mph or 3x108m/s) never changes even if the observer or the light source is moving (kind of like a cosmic speed limit, as Brian Greene puts it). If you haven’t heard of this theory, or would like to expand your understanding of it, this clip on Special Relativity and Curved Space Time by Brian Greene from the Elegant Universe program on Nova explains it all.


Image: An illustration showing the Earth and the Moon warping space-time (credit: Mark Garlick/SPL)

General relativity further expanded on this idea and discusses how matter warps the time and space around it!  This meant that the Newtonian version of gravity was incorrect! This new way to look at the geometry of space showed that gravity is caused by objects with mass bending the fabric of space and time around it. (Think of a bowling ball on a trampoline). Physicist Brian Greene has been doing a wonderful series to mark Einstein’s Centenary through his series of short videos on A Moment of Science which is not only educational but presents complex ideas in a very simplistic and easy-to-understand manner.

To commemorate this historical event at our school, Vanilla Macias-Rodriguez, our science teacher, donated a beautiful work of art of the man himself, Albert Einstein adorned with Swarovski crystals that currently hangs proudly in the lab at the Beekman School. This custom artwork was created by famed artist Kfir Moyal and was purchased at a fundraiser to benefit the Sarcoma Research Lab at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. Come by the school, take a quick tour around the premises and don’t forget to peek at this beauty when you are here. 



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