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Einstein: Brilliant Skeptic

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Everyone, everywhere knows of Albert Einstein as a worldwide symbol of scientific genius. Most remember that his famed 1905 equation, E=MC2 - showing that a small amount of matter can be transformed into a stupendous amount of energy - paved the way for nuclear power and bombs.

But otherwise, even well-educated folks often are vague about all that Einstein did to become the planet's most famous scientist. I just read a simplified 2006 book, Essential Einstein, and distilled this thumbnail reference for anyone who wants to keep track:

Between 1902 and 1909, while living in Bern, Switzerland, Einstein published 32 scientific papers - then wrote many others later in his life. In 1905, his "miracle year", he stunned the world with four revolutions plus another work:

---- Photoelectric effect - He confirmed quantum theory by showing that light is quantized, traveling in individual energy packets, photons, that cause electrons to pop randomly from metal. For this, he got the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics.

---- Special Relativity - After the 1887 Michelson-Morley experiment showed that the speed of light is absolutely constant, Einstein deduced that everything else must vary as speed increases: time slows, mass increases, dimensions shorten in the direction of movement. This has deep philosophical implications because it shows that reality isn't as fixed and tangible as we think it is. Many modern tests have confirmed the weird changes.

---- Interchangeability of matter and energy demonstrated by his renowned equation E=MC2 (which was proven horribly when a quantity of matter smaller than a dime turned into energy at Hiroshima in 1945).

---- Brownian motion - Einstein confirmed the theory of atoms by showing that gases and liquids consist of vast numbers of hyper-small invisible particles darting and ricocheting - and they kick pollen or smoke particles about frantically.

---- Dimensions of molecules - His doctoral dissertation showed how to calculate the size of molecules and Avogadro's number, the tally of molecules in a quantity of gas called a mole.

1906 - A paper on heat radiation.

1907 - The Equivalence Principle -- Einstein showed that gravity and acceleration are indistinguishable in effects they produce.

1908 - More on quantum electromagnetic radiation, the topic of his 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect.

1910 - A paper on opalescence, the scattering of blue in the daytime sky.

1911 - His famous theory that gravity bends light waves -- which was confirmed during a 1919 eclipse when astronomers saw that stars behind the masked sun's position appeared slightly out of place.

1913-14 - Papers on tensor calculus and differential geometry.

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James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.  Mr. Haught has won two dozen national news writing awards. He has written 12 books and hundreds of magazine essays and blog posts. Around 450 of his essays are online. He is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, a weekly blogger at Daylight Atheism, (more...)
 

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