Official WEAF New York Radio Transcript
March 19, 1922
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, its a
thrill to have you, Mr. Einsteen.
Einstein. Thank you.
Of course. Mr. Einstein. So youve just won the Nobel Prize last year--1921 for those of us who havent been keeping score. Youre a genius!
I wouldnt prefer to be called a genius.
I just adore your work! But Im not very familiar with it.... Why dont 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...
Thats amazing! A physicist in kindergarten! Unbelievable!
When my father showed me a compass...
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 mustve been a great student.
No, not really. I didnt 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. Ive always had a strong sense of myself and my religious heritage--the atmosphere there was quite uncomfortable for me.
Yes...I didnt 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...
The experience was a good one for me because the environment was very free--I had many opportunities to express my ideas.
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? Wouldnt it be SFIT?
Well, the name of the university was abbreviated from the native...
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 didnt attend classes too often.
That couldnt 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 didnt want to be a financial burden on my family--my fathers business wasnt 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...
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.
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...
Thats 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 didnt go mad.
No, I didnt. Galileos Principle of Relvativity encouraged me to continue into my research.
Principle of Relativity--wasnt 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 Ive heard that your ideas werent in agreement with the old ideas.
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.
Nothing happens at the same time. Therefore, there must be a maximum speed of interaction. Its 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 oclock 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.
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?
But we all see things differently.
Right. The measurements of distance and time are relative though.
Youve lost me. What does that mean?
I like to use a train as an example. Ill sit on the embankment and well pretend that youre on a train.
But I dont have a ticket.
important. Youre standing in the middle of the train
as its moving forward. Youre 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. Well pretend that when the light beam reaches the doors, they open. So heres the question--do the doors open at the same time?
Well, thats what you would see, right? Youre moving with the train.
I knew it.
But I say that the back door opens first.
Well youre 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 didnt?
Well, in that sense you did, but from my perspective you walked much further. Its relative.
So thats what relative means...
More or less.
And this is all physics--but they told me there would be some math here?
Its coming. I really just use math to express the relationship between the place and time of events.
Right. Are you ready for some algebra?
Now walk back to the middle of the train car again. The train is going at 20 miles per hour. Well call the velocity of the train V. Walk to the front door now at 3 miles per hours. The speed that youre 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 Im walking?
Well find out. The velocity that I see--U-- can be found in my formula
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?!
Youd be surprised. Simplified, U=23/1+(60/c^2)
But whats c^2?
Its the speed of light--like I said--multiplied by itself.
So what is that exactly?
Its a lot. Its a whole heck of a lot.
186,000 miles per second.
But we dont even need to write in the number. Youll 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 cant I just walk to the front of the car again?
Do you think that you can walk at the speed of light?
Well then well use the flashlight. Light goes at...
The speed of light!
Yes. Light travels from the flashlight at the speed of light. Thats 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.
Do you remember your algebra from school?
At any rate,
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 wont 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.
Isnt 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 well 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!
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.