JF Ptak Science Books Post 1137
[Part of the History of Blank, Empty and Missing Things series.]
There was a time when this was a real question, even though the subject of that question was in the process of changing physics. One of the most enigmatic strings of 12 words and numerals in the history of science, “Bern, June, 1905" appeared at the end of Albert Einstein’s special relativity paper, setting the question in motion..
This difficult publication–one of the most revolutionary in the history of physics–was written by a mystery man. Its author was basically unknown–when readers tried to find Einstein, they went to the universities in Bern, naturally, but of course didn’t find him there. No one would have guessed that he was a patent office grunt, one window at work to call his own. There were no clues in the paper about the other, not really–not even a footnote. An invisible man was changing the face of physics.
1905 was, well, “busy” for Einstein. Perhaps no one person has ever had a year like this, in any discipline. His four papers delivered during this time was nothing short of miraculous. To start, Einstein turned 26 on 14 March, and sent his magnificent photoelectricity paper1 to the Annalen der Physik three days later. At the end of April, Einstein sent in his doctoral dissertation to the University of Zurich2 (the paper accepted and approved in July and degree formally awarded on 15 January 1906). A few weeks later (a) his son Hans Albert celebrated his first birthday and (b)he got his big idea on the special theory. Also in this same extraordinary month of May he sent the Annalen his Brownian Motion paper3, and then, a little more than a month later, Einstein sent his SRT 4 paper in to the same Annalen, and saw it published 26 September.
As Einstein’s great paper awaited publication he returned from a short vacation with his family and sent in his (a) dissertation (on 19 August, and which is published in February 1906) and (b) his mass-energy equivalence paper5 (E=mc2). I can think of no other time for any other scientist in the history of the sciences who had so much fabulous stuff up in the air at the same time. Impossible, really. And then, after most of the papers are published and appeared in the orange-wrappered physical journal Annalen der Physik, Einstein got a part-time job tutoring a student.
At the end of 1905 Einstein was becoming less Blank, but considering the power of his publications, I can’t think of anyone of equal power who was unequally unknown.
1. “On a Heuristic Point of View concerning the Production and Transformation of Light.” published June 9.
2. “A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions.” (Published in 1906.)
3. “On the Movement of Small Particles Suspended in Stationary Liquids Required by the Molecular-Kinetic Theory of Heat.” published July 18.
4. “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies.” Received June 30, published 26 September.
5. “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend upon Its Energy Content?”