Series celebrates centenary of Einstein’s big year


He didn’t make headlines at the time but what Albert Einstein did in 1905 made him one of the most famous people of the 20th century.

Right: Albert Einstein in mid-life

Known as the great physicist’s annis mirabalis, the fifth year of the century included events such as Russia’s Winter Palace revolution, the beginning of the Dreadnaught arms race that led to the First World War, and the creation of two new Canadian provinces: Saskatchewan and Alberta. What Einstein did was publish four influential scientific papers that helped establish him as a pre-eminent theoretician who would be named Man of the Century by Time magazine.

And that is why York University’s Science & Society Program, in the Faculty of Arts, will celebrate “A Century of Einstein” with a four-part lecture series that begins at 12:30pm, tomorrow, in 218 Bethune College.

Co-sponsored by the Division of Humanities, Faculty of Arts, and Bethune College in co-operation with the CBC Radio program Quirks and Quarks, the series begins with a lecture on “Albert Einstein: The man behind the myths” by John Stachel, professor emeritus from Boston University.

Stachel, who did his doctoral work on general relativity in the late ’50s, directs the Boston University Center of Einstein Studies, which has sponsored conferences on the history of general relativity and Einstein’s early years. He co-edits the centre’s series of Einstein Studies, four volumes of which have been published, two directly concerned with the history of general relativity.

einstein2The celebration of Einstein includes talks by Clifford M. Will of Washington University on Nov. 8 and Robert Schulmann, former director of the Einstein Papers Project (now at the California Institute of Technology), on Jan. 26. The series concludes March 9 with a panel discussion moderated by Bob McDonald, host of Quirks and Quarks. Panellists for the final session include James Brown and Amanda Peet of the University of Toronto, Lee Smolin from Waterloo’s Perimiter Institute and Alan Lightman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Left: Albert Einstein in later life

Bernard Lightman, co-organizer and humanities professor in York’s Science & Society Program, said the series is a chance for the York community to hear what other scholars are saying about the man whose theories are still being tested 100 years after they were first published. In fact, York Professor Norbert Bartel and his team in the Department of Astronomy & Physics, are part of the current Gravity Probe B experiment that is testing Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Scientists the world over are staging centenary events to mark the publishing of the four papers that represent Einstein’s most significant and lasting contribution to our understanding of the universe, said Lightman. During just one year, Einstein wrote his doctoral thesis, his Special Theory of Relativity and his Nobel Prize-winning paper, “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”, and applied his theory to mass and energy to formulate his most famous equation, E=mc2.