California Institute of Technology
Einstein Papers Project




Highlights in the History of General Relativity

On February 3, 2016, Diana K. Buchwald and Jürgen Renn presented highlights in the history of general relativity at a celebratory dinner for Caltech Associates at the Athenaeum Faculty Club. 2-4-15

100 years ago Albert Einstein submitted a paper to the Royal Prussian Academy of the Natural Sciences which contained what we today call the Einstein field equations: the new law of gravity that superseded Isaac Newton’s inverse square law of gravity. On the same day, 25 November 1915, that Einstein submitted said paper, his preceeding paper on Mercury's perihelion was published. Here, Einstein correctly calculated an anomoly in Mercury's motion that had remained an unsolved puzzle in the context of the Newtonian theory of gravity. The paper had been submitted only a week earlier in turn, but it did not yet contain the final gravitational field equations that would become the core of the general theory of relativity.

Ten days prior to his submission of the final field equations, Einstein wrote to David Hilbert that he was suffering from exhaustion and abdominal pains. His intense work on general relativity and poor nutrition caused by the ongoing war had clearly taken their toll on Einstein's health. Still, when Einstein submitted the field equations on 25 November 1915, he was aware that he had reached his goal: the discovery of a law of gravity more accurate than Newton's, consistent with the results of special relativity, and indeed a generalisation of the latter theory. From the very beginning of searching for this new law of gravity, Einstein took the lesson from special relativity that mass and energy are equivalent as one of his starting points; or rather the idea that both mass and energy have to produce gravitational fields. The main question was what the resulting gravitational fields would be represented by, what the "left-hand side" of the Einstein field equations would be, given that their "right-hand side" was mass-energy. [Read more] 11-25-15

One might think that if there is any scientist whose work has been thoroughly researched and studied, whose every manuscript and letter has been scrutinized by scholars and other scientists, it would be Albert Einstein. He created the idea of the light quantum, the special and general theories of relativity, wrote the decisive paper establishing the existence of atoms, suggested the first model of the universe as a whole, introduced the principles that gave rise to lasers, and many more things. He also invented a design for a new kind of refrigerator, a gyrocompass, and worked on designs for a tape recorder and a camera that would self-adjust to light intensity. He was instrumental in bringing German science back into the fold of international cooperation after the First World War, and in creating the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He became a major figurehead of the international pacifist movement in the interwar period and the disarmament movement in the postwar period. He exchanged letters with all the great physicists of his time over decades, with senior political leaders, writers, musicians, and artists.

Of whom, if not of Einstein, would we expect that every piece of paper he had ever set his pen to had been studied with great care already?

And yet, it has not happened so far. Einstein’s literary estate, his published and unpublished manuscripts, his letters and notebooks, contain tens of thousands of pages, mostly handwritten. Much of it has likely not been read by anybody, let alone been researched thoroughly, and followed through line by line. [Read More].


Documentary Posted

The History Channel's documentary about Einstein has been reposted on YouTube. Take a look:


Recent Interview

The Digital Einstein Papers continues to captivate attention; here is a recent interview about the project with the Einstein Papers Project's Ze'ev Rosenkranz on Arise America.