UConn Physics Colloquium

Proving General Relativity

Amir D. Aczel
Bentley College
Waltham, Massachusetts

This talk is based on the research that led to my 1999 book God's Equation: Einstein, Relativity, and the Expanding Universe. Since today (1/8/03) the New York Times reported a new finding by scientists that the gravitational field progresses at the speed of light, confirming once again that Einstein's predictions were correct, I thought it might be appropriate for me to concentrate on the story of the first proof of general relativity: the 1919 eclipse expedition by Arthur Eddington to Principe Island and the work that led to it.

The unique story I have to tell - one that has not been written about by others before - is that of the extensive preparations Einstein had made in an effort to prove the physical validity of the general theory of relativity. These preparations began in 1914, two years before the theory was complete. This story involves the unusual relationship between Einstein and a young astronomer named Erwin Freundlich, who hoped to make a name for himself by providing astronomical proof of Einstein's theory. Ironically, had Freundlich's ill-fated expedition to the Crimea in 1914 to view a total eclipse been successful, Einstein would have been proven half-right (and half-wrong!) because at that time, his incomplete theory predicted only half the amount of deflection due to gravity of starlight grazing the eclipsed sun as would have been observed. As chance would have it, World War I broke out just as Freundlich - a German - arrived in Russian-controlled territory, and he was immediately arrested as a spy and deprived of his telescope and the chance to observe the eclipse. Five years later, using Einstein's completed theory and a new eclipse, Eddington provided the proof.

I have been very fortunate to be the first to view a private collection of 25 letters by Einstein to Freundlich right after they had been donated by a private collector to the Pierpont-Morgan Library in New York. My father, who is fluent in German, helped me translate these fascinating letters (our translation was the first, before the Princeton-BU group that studies Einstein's papers could see the letters). These letters tell an incredible story about Einstein's ambition, his deep interest in practical astronomy, and his relationship with a fellow scientist. My story of the history of the first proof of general relativity is based on, and will be illustrated by, these exceptional personal letters.

Friday, February 21, 2003
3:00 PM
Biology/Physics Building
Room BSP130

(Refreshments will be served immediately following the colloquium in the lobby outside BSP130)

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