Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Einstein’s Theory of General Relevancy

by Eric Bender

Your cell phone knows about the theory of general relativity that Albert Einstein proposed a century ago. Its built-in GPS navigation system wouldn’t work without the realization that the clocks in the GPS satellites 13,000 miles above us run slightly faster than clocks on the surface of the earth, due to gravitational effects that general relativity predicts.

That’s just one example of why Einstein’s astonishing relativity theories remain crucial today, both embedded in objects in our daily lives and acting as a platform for our rapidly evolving understanding of the universe. And both aspects will be in view in the Celebrating Einstein series, which officially launches one month from today.

“The 100-year anniversary is a great occasion in itself, but we wanted to find the best ways to demonstrate not just that Einstein was a genius but what makes him relevant to the world today,” says Joe Diaz, a science educator who is organizing the series. For most of the Celebrating Einstein events, “you should have zero concern about understanding the physics that will be discussed,” he emphasizes.

Celebrating Einstein, which Diaz introduces here, kicks off with a panel of famous physicists Speaking of Einstein. “These speakers use relativity at a world-class level every day and also are very good at re-explaining and using creative metaphors to get across the gist of why Einstein is still so exciting,” says David Kaiser, an MIT physicist and science historian who will moderate the session.

“We are building on a series of events that colleagues of ours at Montana State University designed about two years ago,” says Kaiser, who spearheaded the move to bring Celebrating Einstein to Cambridge. “The folks in Montana were extremely thoughtful in designing these materials and extremely generous in sharing them with us.”

Another striking event is Black (W)hole, an interactive video art display. “A lot of the ideas in relativity are very visual; Einstein was a very visual thinker,” Kaiser notes. “Here’s a chance for a visual artist to work with physicists to try to get their basic sense as to how gravity warps space and time, and what might it be like to wander around in a space in which gravity is so extreme that things behave differently than what we’re used to.”

Among many other intriguing Celebrating Einstein happenings, check out A Shout Across Time, evening performances combining original choreography, an informal interview with a prominent physicist, and an original short film with original music played by a 30-piece orchestra. “This is all a way to get creative people to think about gravity and space and time in this way,” Kaiser says.

“Even people who have heard nothing about physics or don’t think they care will recognize the name Albert Einstein,” he points out. “He is probably the most well-known scientist celebrity in modern history, and we can use that to our advantage.”

“We all rely on the insights that are results of relativity in our everyday gadgetry,” Kaiser adds. “And the same set of equations, the same ideas that Einstein and others have labored over during the past century, also guide some of our most wild-sounding or speculative ideas about the entire universe. Do you like thinking about weird ideas about the universe? Well, we’ve got some stuff for you. Or, how did you get to the event today? You probably got here using your cell phone’s GPS. That’s an amazing range.”

Importantly, Celebrating Einstein also is fanning out into public schools around metropolitan Boston. Local physics students, postdocs and professors are delivering two interactive lessons, focused on spacetime concepts and the speed of light, in about 30 eighth-grade science classes.

“We can say to these students that all kinds of people can think about what it’s like for space to be curved, or for light to travel really quickly but not infinitely quickly,” Kaiser says. “We can agree that Einstein was pretty smart, but you don’t have to be Einstein to think about this stuff and enjoy the concepts.”

Saturday, March 14, 2015

PiEinstein Day

Einstein in 1904 / Lucien Chavan

Good morning, and a glorious Super Pi Day to you! In case you’re unaware, today is the occasion when the month and day coincide with the first three digits of π - 3.14. Today is even more spectacular in that the year, hour, minute, and second also extend to further match the irrational sequence of numbers at precisely 9:26:53 am, giving 3.141592653. So, why is Albert Einstein’s visage pictured above?

Galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849 / NASA/ESA
Believe it or not, today is also Einstein’s birthday! Born in 1879, he would have been blowing out 136 candles on this particular orbit around the sun. Furthermore, his theory of general relativity also celebrates its centenary this year. Published in 1915, this work takes the force of gravity and explains how it is a fundamental property of both space and time itself. While Einstein’s theory was not readily accepted at first, 100 years of vast testing and large-scale experiments have failed to disprove it. More importantly, general relativity has helped and continues to push physicists to new frontiers of science regarding black holes, gravitational waves, and cosmic emoticons (gravitational lensing). This "smiley" image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of a galaxy cluster demonstrates how gravitational lensing warps our perspective of objects in the observable universe. Appropriately enough, this is known as an "Einstein Ring."

Here, at the Cambridge Science Festival, we believe this theory is worth celebrating. So, we will! Celebrating Einstein is a series of events and activities taking place before and during the 2015 Cambridge Science Festival to mark the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, his greatest scientific legacy. Designed to celebrate and teach us about science and the revolution in physics that Einstein launched, we will have panel discussions, interviews, an interactive video-art installation, and interpretations of some aspects of general relativity expressed in dance, music, and film! Take a look at the list below to learn more, and be aware that some events require tickets to be purchased in advance. We hope to see you there!

Cosmic Loops: Music Beneath the Stars
Celebrate Einstein in this immersive visual and auditory experience.

Science By The Pint @ Aeronaut: Gravitational Waves
Does gravity ripple? Come learn about gravitational waves and how they are detected.

Discuss the science of simulating a universe in a computer.

Marcia Bartusiak talks about her new book, Black Hole: How an Idea Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled on by Hawking Became Loved.

Listen to a panel of world-renowned scientists discuss Einstein's reigning influence.

An evening of true, personal stories about science from the popular podcast series.

Be immersed in the depths of a black hole and be entranced by the beauty of our universe.

Experience a danced lecture and a film, featuring music inspired by gravitational wave sounds.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Cambridge Science Festival 2015!

You may have noticed our programs for the Cambridge Science Festival schedule are online here.  The festival team is excited for the 160+ programs scheduled for April (and very excited for warmth in general). 

Take a look at the list below for all the festival programs that require pre-registration or tickets.
Don't miss the School Vacation Programs category as well!