Albert Einstein

Official WEAF New York Radio Transcript

March 19, 1922

You’re tuned into WEAF, “the voice of millions.”  Here in our New York studio this afternoon we have Nobel Prize-winning physicist Albert Einsteen.  And I must say, it’s a thrill to have you, Mr. Einsteen.

Einstein. Thank you.    

Of course.  Mr. Einstein.  So you’ve just won the Nobel Prize last year--1921 for those of us who haven’t been keeping score.  You’re a genius!

I wouldn’t prefer to be called a genius.

I just adore your work!  But I’m not very familiar with it....  Why don’t we just start at the beginning?  When, would you say, did you first feel that itch to dive into quantum physics?

I think my first contact with physics occurred when I was about four or five...

That’s amazing!  A physicist in kindergarten!  Unbelievable!

When my father showed me a compass...

Oh.

I found it odd that it always pointed the same way--that was the first time that I became interested in researching the invisible forces that affect the universe so profoundly.

Who were your major influences as a youngster?

My uncle Jacob introduced me to math and a young medical student that dined with my family each week, Max Talmey, furthered the teachings of my uncle.  

So when you were in school you must’ve been a great student.

No, not really.  I didn’t have respect for my teachers--not even as an elementary school student.  I attended a Catholic elementary school in Munich and I was the only Jew there.  I’ve always had a strong sense of myself and my religious heritage--the atmosphere there was quite uncomfortable for me.

Azoy?

Yes...I didn’t finish high school in Munich--I never respected my teachers.  Eventually I finished my high school certificate in Aarau, which is in Switzerland.  That was an excellent experience.

Ah, Switzerland.  I know what you mean.  Watches, chocolate, army knives...

Not exactly what I was...

Cheese.

The experience was a good one for me because the environment was very free--I had many opportunities to express my ideas.

Oh.

After I graduated from Aarau in 1896, I really felt a commitment to physics.  Mathematics were just too specialized.  After I finished my schooling at Aarau, I was able to pass the entrance exam at the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology--the ETH.

ETH?  Wouldn’t it be SFIT?  

Well, the name of the university was abbreviated from the native...

Swiss language.

German.

Right.  So you enjoyed being a student at the ETH?

It was exciting, I suppose.  I was really more interested in my own studies.  I didn’t attend classes too often.

That couldn’t have been good for your grades.

My friend Marcel Grossman lent me his notes from class so that I could pass the exams.  

So then you graduated the ETH and moved on to a position at the institute?

Not quite--I worked in at a Swiss patent office for a bit.

Why would a physicist do that?

I didn’t want to be a financial burden on my family--my father’s business wasn’t prospering.  I still had time for my studies, though.  A lot of science graduates worked at the office.  I focused on electricity and electrodynamics.  I worked a lot with Mike Besso--we were good friends.  

Any influences at this time?

I appreciated the work of Faraday, Maxwell, Hertz...

And so on.

The incorporation of optics into the theory of electromagnetism with its relation to the speed of light to electrical and magnetic measurements...was like a...

Headache?

...revelation!

So was it all work, no play for the aspiring physicist?

I enjoyed my work, although at times it was nerve-racking.  I met my wife in those years--I married Mileva Maric in ‘03.  

Mazel tov!

Right.

So was there any brainteaser in particular that you were attracted to at the time?

I was pondering one riddle in particular.  I wanted to know if I moved at the speed of light...

That’s pretty fast.

...and I held a mirror in front of me, if I could still see my reflection.  Also, I wanted to know what observers on the ground would see.  The problem nearly drove me mad.

But you didn’t go mad.

No, I didn’t.  Galileo’s Principle of Relvativity encouraged me to continue into my research.  

Principle of Relativity--wasn’t that your thing?

No--the Principle of Relativity stated that all steady motion is relative and cannot be detected without reference to an outside point.

But I’ve heard that your ideas weren’t in agreement with the old ideas.

True.

So you had to pitch ‘em.

You could say that.  Based on prior research from Maxwell and Hertz, I proposed that there are no instantaneous interactions in nature.

Instant what?

Nothing happens at the same time. Therefore, there must be a maximum speed of interaction.  It’s a material property of our world.  

How could that be?  Lots of things happen at the same time.

We have to understand that all our judgments in which time plays a part are always judgments of simultaneous events.  If, for instance, I say “That train arrives here at 7 o’clock” I mean something like this:  “The pointing of a small hand of my watch to the 7 and the arrival of the train are simultaneous events.”

Right...

But things that happen at the same time from one point of view do not happen at the same time from another.  I called this the relativity of simultaneity.

Mmm...So basically you threw everything out.

Conventional concepts needed modification, yes.  

So you wanted to know if everyone could see the same speed of light?

Among other things, yes.  

Speed is how far something goes divided by the time it takes to go that far, right?

Right.  

But we all see things differently.

Right.  The measurements of distance and time are relative though.

You’ve lost me.  What does that mean?

I like to use a train as an example.  I’ll sit on the embankment and we’ll pretend that you’re on a train.

But I don’t have a ticket.

That’s not important.  You’re standing in the middle of the train as it’s moving forward.  You’re holding a device that sends out a beam of light to the front and back of the train at the same time.

Like a two-way flashlight.

Something like that.  We’ll pretend that when the light beam reaches the doors, they open.  So here’s the question--do the doors open at the same time?

Yes?

Well, that’s what you would see, right?  You’re moving with the train.

I knew it.

But I say that the back door opens first.

Well you’re wrong--you said that they open at the same time.

Not so--for a witness on the sideline, the back door opens first because it looks like the back of the train is moving to meet the light beam and the front of the train is moving away from it.  

I want to get off.  What if I walked to the back door of the train?  Is that distance different too?

Well, you think that you walked 1/2 the length of the car.  

And I didn’t?

Well, in that sense you did, but from my perspective you walked much further.  It’s relative.

So that’s what relative means...

More or less.  

And this is all physics--but they told me there would be some math here?

It’s coming.  I really just use math to express the relationship between the place and time of events.  

Measurements.  

Right.  Are you ready for some algebra?

I guess...

Now walk back to the middle of the train car again.  The train is going at 20 miles per hour.  We’ll call the velocity of the train V.  Walk to the front door now at 3 miles per hours.  The speed that you’re walking at will be called W.  The distance from the middle of the train to that door is x and the time it takes you to cover that distance is t.  Just remember that x and t were measured on the train and the speed of light is c.    

So how fast do you, on the embankment, think I’m walking?

We’ll find out.  The velocity that I see--U-- can be found in my formula
    U=(V+W)/1+ (VW/c^2)

Oy.  

It makes more sense if you fill in the numbers.  U=(20mph+3mph)/1+(20*3/c^2)  Simplified...

After that, what could you do besides simplify it?!

You’d be surprised.  Simplified, U=23/1+(60/c^2)

But what’s c^2?  

It’s the speed of light--like I said--multiplied by itself.  

So what is that exactly?

It’s a lot.  It’s a whole heck of a lot.  

How much?

Too much.

How much?

186,000 miles per second.

Oy Gevalt!

But we don’t even need to write in the number.  You’ll see if we pretend that the train is going at the speed of light and you have a flashlight again like it worked before.  

Why can’t I just walk to the front of the car again?

Do you think that you can walk at the speed of light?

No...

Well then we’ll use the flashlight.  Light goes at...

The speed of light!

Yes.  Light travels from the flashlight at the speed of light.  That’s c.  The velocity of the train, which we used to call V equals c in this example.  The velocity of the light flash with respect to the train is c as well--so W also equals c.  So now we try to figure out how fast the flash is moving with respect to me on the ground.  

U=(V+W)/1+ (VW/c^2)
U=(c+c)/1+ (c*c/c^2)

Do you remember your algebra from school?

Not particularly...

At any rate,

U=2c/1+ (c^2/c^2)
U=2c/1+1
U=2c/2
U=c!

Why is that exciting?

Because it means that there are no absolutely simultaneous events and nothing can go faster than the speed of light, which can be seen at the same speed by all observers!

Yipee--but what would happen if you tried to force something to go faster than the speed of light?  

Nothing--even if you keep trying to force something to move something faster than the speed of light, it won’t go any faster.

Fair enough.  But what about e=mc^2?  

The mass of a body is a measure of its energy content?  I wrote a short paper on it.  What we spoke of plays into that equation.

Isn’t that your most famous accomplishment?  

You could say that, I suppose... but if it took us that long to make it through the beginning of relativity I think we’ll save e=mc^2 for another program.  You just think on the formula that we went over.

You got it, Al!  Thanks for coming out to the Big Apple--we appreciate it.  WEAF “the voice of millions” signing off with bal toyreh Albert Einsteen!

Argh...

[end transcript]

 

Works Cited

A. Einstein: Image and Impact. June 2001. American Institute of Physics. 18 Feb 2002. http://www.aip.org/history/einstein/

A very thorough website. I found it to be most helpful in researching Einstein's early life. Sections are very clear and there are many photographs. Each section is self-contained enough to study individually. Overall, very helpful.

Einstein Revealed. Nova Online. 20 Feb 2002. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/einstein/indextext.html

A moderately helpful website. The content is speckled with a couple of activities that are pretty useless. The saving grace is the timeline.

Scwartz, Joseph and Michael McGuinness. Einstein for Beginners. New York: Pantheon Books, 1979.

This book is a godsend. Anyone even considering researching Einstein must read this book. It's a really fun comicbook-style cartoon book that explains the math behind Einstein beyond any doubt. It's a light, humorous book that's just entertaining reading! The pictures really help and the tangents that the authors go on really add--for instance, when they approach relativity, they start at the beginning--really--with a short, hilarious, pictured history of numbers and mathematics.