Teaching

Published on November 23rd, 2013 | by JRO

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An Overview Of Einstein’s Theories Of Special and General Relativity

When you think about Albert Einstein you probably think of the brilliant man known for his theories on relativity, gravity, and other aspects of physics. His theories gained a large following and a tremendous amount of respect, earning him a Nobel Prize for theoretical physics, specifically regarding photoelectric effects.

Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity

To understand Einstein’s theory of special relativity, one must first go back to the days of geometry. With geometry, students learn about points, lines, and planes. At this point, these rules are used to measure distance between one object and another. Einstein wanted to measure something different. He wanted to measure motion rather than distance.

With the theory of special relativity, Einstein wanted to show laws of motion. When two objects are moving toward each other, following a straight line, the motion is uniform. His example involved being on a train and dropping a rock from the train window. With special relativity, his theory required that falling rock to move straight down to the ground with no deviation in trajectory.

While Einstein’s theory of special relativity requires both objects to be moving in a straight line, any deviation from a straight line destroyed the theory. Through this theory, Einstein was able to prove that mass and energy are not separate entities. They work together. He also proved that the speed of light impacts the principles of space and time. This led to Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity

You probably remember the formula e=mc², something everyone took from Einstein’s theory of general relatively. Einstein’s theory involved the amount of energy found in any object. Gravity impacts that object, as does the speed of light. When two items are heading for each other, they may deviate from a straight line, and this is the area Einstein covered through his theory of general relativity.

Unlike special relativity where the items meeting traveled a completely straight path, Einstein accounted for deviations with his theory of general relativity. He proved that objects often follow curved paths because of gravity and the space-time continuum. The world does not just have one dimension. One way to understand this is to think about traveling from the north pole to the south pole. This may seem like a straight line, but planets are round; therefore, the path is curved because it forms part of a circle.

With general relativity, Einstein set out to prove that gravity and space-time impacted an object’s path. Look at the example he used involving the rock dropping from the train window. Gravity does pull the rock toward the ground, but the wind will affect the rock’s trajectory. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the rock will drop straight down; it will follow a curved path.

About Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein was born in Germany in 1879. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Munich, where he began his early education. When the family moved to Italy, Einstein continued his schooling in Switzerland. He trained as a teacher at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School. After earning his diploma, he became a Swiss citizen and went on to earn a doctorate in math and physics.

Years later, he moved to Germany and became a German citizen, only to renounce his citizenship 19 years later. At that point, he moved to the United States and become a theoretical physics professor at Princeton University. He died in 1955 in Princeton, New Jersey, after having become a U.S. citizen.

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Newt Carroll writes on science fiction, technology, physics, gadgets, computers, tablets, laptops, the kensington ipad case, gizmos and other similar subjects.

Image credit goes to anders.rasmussen.


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