Getting Physical: Michio Kaku Explains Einstein’s Genius

Michio Kaku
Michio Kaku

His formula for the relationship of mass and energy, E=mc[2], revolutionized the world of science. Undoubtedly one of the most influential physicists of all time, Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879 - April 18, 1955) radically transformed our understanding of the universe. Perhaps best known for his theory of relativity, his contributions to physics are varied, unique, and still very relevant. He furthered our understanding of time, space, energy and matter and contributed to the development of quantum physics. Practically all the modern physicists and astrophysicists are drawing from Einstein’s groundbreaking work, a never-ending testimony to this quintessential scientific genius.

Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist and co-founder of string field theory, continues Einstein's goal of a “theory of everything,” uniting the four fundamental forces of nature into one theory.

He hosts two weekly radio programs, “Science Fantastic” and “Explorations.” He also frequently appears on television, has written for popular science publications such as Discover, Wired, and New Scientist, has been featured in documentaries (“Me & Isaac Newton”), and hosted many of his own, including BBC's series on Time.

Currently Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City University of New York, he is also the author of best-selling books, Parallel Worlds andHyperspace. His newest book, Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 was published in February 2012.

Q: What were Einstein’s major contributions to physics besides the theory of relativity?

A: In 1905, in addition to publishing relativity theory, Einstein made several other worthy breakthroughs. First, he experimentally proved the existence of atoms. We forget that in 1905, there were still scientists who scoffed at the theory of atoms. (In fact, the great physicist Ludwig Boltzmann was, in part, driven to suicide by the ridicule he faced from students of Ernst Mach, who believed that atoms did not exist and would never be seen experimentally. Sadly, Boltzmann died a year after the young Einstein proved the existence of atoms, showing that tiny molecular collisions called Brownian motion could explain why dust particles in water seemed to vibrate. Einstein could even calculate the size of the atom from this effect.)

Also in 1905, Einstein's miracle year, he explained the photoelectric effect, how a light beam falling on a metal will eject electrons and create a tiny current. Einstein introduced a particle of light, later called the photon, which forms the basis of the quantum theory of matter and light. Einstein is thus the godfather of the quantum theory, the other great theory of the 20th century. (The photoelectric effect and the photon are used today in solar cells, TV cameras, lasers, and modern electronics).

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