Einstein and Relativity Theory
Following Newton’s triumph, work expanded not only in mechanics but also in the other branches of physics, in particular, in electricity and magnetism. This work culminated in the late nineteenth century in a new and successful theory of electricity and magnetism based upon the idea of electric and magnetic fields. The Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell, who formulated the new electromagnetic field theory, showed that what we observe as light can be understood as an electromagnetic wave. Newton’s physics and Maxwell’s theory account, to this day, for almost everything we observe in the everyday physical world around us. The motions of planets, cars, and projectiles, light and radio waves, colors, electric and magnetic effects, and currents all fit within the physics of Newton, Maxwell, and their contemporaries. In addition, their work made possible the many wonders of the new electric age that have spread throughout much of the world since the late nineteenth century. No wonder that by 1900 some distinguished physicists believed that physics was nearly complete, needing only a few minor adjustments. No wonder they were so astonished when, just 5 years later, an unknown Swiss patent clerk, who had graduated from the Swiss Polytechnic Institute in Zurich in 1900, presented five major research papers that touched off a major transformation in physics that is still in progress. Two of these papers provided the long-sought definitive evidence for the existence of atoms and molecules; another initiated the development of the quantum theory of light; and the fourth and fifth papers introduced the theory of relativity. The young man’s name was Albert Einstein, and this chapter introduces his theory of relativity and some of its many consequences.
KeywordsReference Frame Thought Experiment Stationary Observer Relative Speed Uniform Velocity
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