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Einstein’s Gyros

Abstract

Einstein’s life-long effort to develop a theory that unifies gravitation and electromagnetism was not a purely theoretical enterprise. The technical environment of a gyrocompass factory triggered his search for a novel connection between the rotation of an electrically uncharged body and its magnetic field. The dimensional equality of the electric unit charge and the mass of a body multiplied by the square root of the gravitational constant hinted at a nonsensical electric charge, to which he gave the name “ghost charge.” He felt that he found a fundamental unity of gravitating mass and electricity, a hitherto undiscovered law of nature. Two physicists offered to assist him in finding evidence of this peculiar electric charge. Peter Pringsheim performed experiments with deionized gases and Teodor Schlomka made measurements of the earth’s magnetic field from balloons and airplanes; Schlomka also executed a thorough literature search and placed Einstein’s efforts in their historical context.

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  • 11 February 2020

    The article ‘Einstein’s Gyros’ written by József Illy was originally published electronically

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Acknowledgments

I express my sincere thanks to Professor Diana Buchwald, Professor Daniel Kennefick and Professor A. J. Kox for discussion and advises; to my colleague Jennifer James Nollar for acquiring documentary sources about Blackett’s Princeton visit; and to Anne Barrett, Imperial College, London, for information about Blackett’s estate. I gratefully thank co-editors-in-chief Joseph D. Martin and Richard Staley for their comments, suggestions, and language corrections.

Special thanks for Dr. Roni Grosz, Dibner Curator of the Einstein Archives, Jerusalem, for permission to quote from Einstein’s unpublished letters.

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Correspondence to József Illy.

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The original version of this article was revised due to cancellation of retrospective Open Access order.

József Illy has been visiting editor of the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein since 1992. He is the editor of Albert Meets America: How Journalists Treated Genius during Einstein’s 1921 Travels (Johns Hopkins, 2006) and author of The Practical Einstein: Experiments, Patents, Inventions (Johns Hopkins, 2013).

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Illy, J. Einstein’s Gyros. Phys. Perspect. 21, 274–295 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00016-019-00248-7

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Keywords

  • Einstein
  • electrogravitational coupling
  • rotation and magnetism
  • terrestrial magnetic field