The Relativity Revolution: Albert Einstein and the making of the modern world

In 1905, when Albert Einstein worked as a patent office clerk, he published a series of academic papers that revolutionized physics and our thinking about space and time, mass and energy. His ideas were a great leap forward. Panellists at the Stratford Festival discuss how Einstein revolutionized how we live our lives today.

From the cosmos to cellphones, Einstein's ideas have revolutionized how we live our lives today.

A medical museum in Chicago obtained funding to scan and digitize nearly 350 fragile, and priceless, slides featuring slices of Albert Einstein's brain. (Associated Press)
Listen to the full episode53:59

*Originally published on December 3, 2019.

E=mc² is the one equation that everyone remembers from high school physics. But it's likely that not everyone knows exactly what it means, or why it's important.

We've all been taught that Albert Einstein and his famous equation are extremely important to our understanding of the universe, but how exactly is never quite clear.

One thing that's clear is that at a more mundane level — our everyday lives — Einstein has been extremely important, and that there's a direct line from the complicated mathematics of theoretical physics to the ubiquitous cellphone. 

Any scientist will tell you that you can't have one without the other, that primary research, equations and calculations impenetrable to the layperson are essential to the working of any of the amazing objects that populate our lives. 

But that direct line isn't a straight one — there are lots of ideas and insights that go nowhere.

Albert Einstein talks with Irène Joliot-Curie, daughter of Nobel Prize winners Pierre and Marie Curie. Her parents were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1935, along with her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie for their work in chemistry. Einstein won the Nobel Prize in 1921 for his work in theoretical physics.

Primary research doesn't come with any guarantees. We don't often know what the long term impact or significance of a new discovery is going to be — but we're not going to get those discoveries if we don't take the chance, fund and encourage scientists at the furthest cutting edge of discovery, whose work almost no-one understands but without whom we'll get nowhere.

Where will the next generation cellphone come from? Well, it'll come from the many successors to Albert Einstein, whoever they are.

Guests in this episode:

  • Chris Smeenk is an associate professor in the department of philosophy at Western University, and the director of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy.
  • Doreen Fraser is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Waterloo.
  • Bianca Dittrich is a faculty member at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical  Physics and an adjunct professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Waterloo.

** This episode was produced by Philip Coulter.

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