Erwin Freundlich

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E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation by David Bodanis


Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington, Berlin Wall, British Empire, dark matter, Ernest Rutherford, Erwin Freundlich, Fellow of the Royal Society, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Mercator projection, pre–internet, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Stephen Hawking, Thorstein Veblen, V2 rocket

Only now it would occur in the sky overhead, where nobody had ever suspected a curved corner pocket to reside. Normally we couldn’t notice this light being bent by the sun, because it would apply only to starlight that skimmed very close to the outer edge of our sun. Under ordinary circumstances the sun’s glare would block out those adjacent daytime stars. But during an eclipse? Every hero needs an assistant. Moses had Aaron. Jesus had his disciples. Einstein, alas, got Freundlich. Erwin Freundlich was a junior assistant at the Royal Prussian Observatory in Berlin. I wouldn’t say he had the worst luck of any individual I’ve read about. Possibly there was someone who survived the Titanic, and then decided to try a ride on the Hindenburg. But it’s probably pretty close. Freundlich was going to make his career, he decided, by shepherding the great general relativity equations forward, and performing the observations that would prove Professor Einstein’s predictions were 207 till the end of time right.

That was the year he won the Nobel Prize, and then—following his usual habit—he shifted directions once again, expanding an elaborate exploration of Shakespeare, and of esthetics generally. In mid-1999, NASA launched a large satellite for deep space observation, capable of capturing images from the very edge of black holes. The satellite crosses over much of the earth—the Arabian Sea, Cambridge, and Chicago included—in its mission, and it is called the chandr a x-r ay observatory. Although erwin freundlich missed out on the 1919 eclipse expedition, his spirits recovered when industrialists in the new Weimar Republic donated large funds to build a great astronomical tower in Potsdam. This would allow further tests of general relativity’s predictions, even in periods when there was no eclipse. Zeiss supplied the equipment, and Mendelsohn, the great expressionist architect, designed the building—it’s the famous Einstein Tower featured in many books on 1920s German architecture.

pages: 492 words: 149,259

Big Bang by Simon Singh


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Andrew Wiles, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Astronomia nova, Brownian motion, carbon-based life, Cepheid variable, Chance favours the prepared mind, Commentariolus, Copley Medal, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, Dava Sobel, Defenestration of Prague, discovery of penicillin, Dmitri Mendeleev, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, Erwin Freundlich, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, Hans Lippershey, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Henri Poincaré, horn antenna, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, Index librorum prohibitorum, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Karl Jansky, Louis Daguerre, Louis Pasteur, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Murray Gell-Mann, music of the spheres, Olbers’ paradox, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Paul Erdős, retrograde motion, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, scientific mainstream, Simon Singh, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, unbiased observer, V2 rocket, Wilhelm Olbers, William of Occam

According to his spacetime formulation of gravity, any beam of light that passed by a star or massive planet would be attracted by the force of gravity towards the star or planet, and the light would be slightly deflected from its original path. Newton’s theory of gravity also predicted that heavy objects would bend light, but to a lesser extent. Consequently, if somebody could measure the bending of light by a massive celestial body, then whether it was slight or very slight would determine who was right, Einstein or Newton. As early as 1912, Einstein began collaborating with Erwin Freundlich on how to make the crucial measurement. Whereas Einstein was a theoretical physicist, Freundlich was an accomplished astronomer and therefore in a better position to say how one might go about making the observations that would discern the optical warping predicted by general relativity. Initially, they wondered whether Jupiter, the most massive planet in the Solar System, might be big enough to bend the light from a distant star, as shown in Figure 25.