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Einstein Papers Project

Einstein Papers Project

Early writings from Einstein reveal more than historians ever knew.

Einstein Papers Project

Thursday, August 3, 2017 - 14:00

Keith Landry, Contributor

(Inside Science) -- Albert Einstein. A brilliant mind. A compelling theorist. And a strong advocate for peace. Einstein revolutionized physics and science with his general theory of relativity, his photoelectric effect theory, and writings on the motion of particles suspended in liquid. Now, historians are documenting Albert Einstein’s discoveries about science so future generations can learn from this transformational genius.

It doesn’t take a brainiac to know that E=MC2, which led to the invention of nuclear power plants and the atomic bomb. But it did take the revolutionary thinking of Albert Einstein to come up with the general theory of relativity, and the theory of special relativity, without which GPS wouldn't work.  To this day, scientists are still using these equations to understand gravity and model our universe.

Einstein’s photoelectric effect theory describes light as composed of discrete quanta -- now known as a photon -- rather than a continuous wave as scientists thought before. This discovery set the stage for the quantum revolution in physics and he was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921.

Diana Kormos-Buchwald is director and editor of the Einstein Papers Project and professor of history at the California Institute of Technology. So far, her team has assembled 15 volumes of Einstein’s writings and correspondences.

“Over the last few years, we’ve discovered that Einstein worked on super conductivity in the early years, which was very little known. We’ve discovered that he continued patent work and patent consulting up to the 1930s,” said Kormos-Buchwald.

When Einstein died in 1955, his secretary Helen Dukas began to preserve the lessons he left behind. She spent 30 years documenting his writings for history. It’s thought that Dukas had more knowledge about his papers and the interrelationships between Einstein and the people he corresponded with than any other person.

The first volume of the Einstein Papers Project was published in 1987, and it takes researchers three years to publish each volume. The 15 volumes include thousands of Einstein’s writings and discussions with fellow scientists as they developed theories on quantum mechanics. The pages also reveal more about how Einstein lived than most historians know.

“How much more immersed he was in social, political, cultural life. With every volume, you see he wasn’t the isolated genius in the attic,” said Kormos-Buchwald. The collection of the legendary scientist’s writings show how far ahead of his time he really was.

“At the beginning of the 20th century, Einstein creates a new vocabulary for relativity and even for quantum theory, and that vocabulary is the same as today. So, when you read Einstein, you actually read a very fresh and contemporary prose, even though it is 100 years old,” said Kormos-Buchwald. He truly defined physics in his day for us to use in ours.

“The vocabulary for general relativity, for special relativity, for Riemannian tensors, for the affine theory, for space curvature, for singularities, everything that goes around relativity was set 100 years ago,” said Kormos-Buchwald.   

The papers show Einstein knew he had to leave Germany because of the Nazi regime, so he did in 1933 and later had a large impact on life in America and Europe. He was a vocal advocate for peace. Researchers say Einstein’s scientific papers are to-the-point and clearly written, but he also had another way with words in his travel diaries.

“He is very funny and colorful in those. He can be very colorful and funny in some of his correspondence,” concluded Kormos-Buchwald.

Princeton University has published the Einstein Papers Project online so anyone can read them in English or in German.

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