Einstein and Quantum Mechanics

Watched last night book presentation “Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian” by Douglas Stone at Microsoft Research and it was a very interesting insight and a different view on personality and work of Einstein which transformed our entire civilization and allowed us to create new technology in the 20th and 21st centuries, from electronics made from individually assembled components to the electronics embedded into materials at the micro-scale which required understanding of quantum structure of matter…

Pic 1. Old and new


Some biographical background

  • Born in 1879, Ulm Germany, middle-class secular Jewish family.
  • Excellent student, but perceived as arrogant, drops out from German high school at age 14. Remark by his Latin teacher: Your mere presence here undermines the class’ respect for me.
  • Self-schools for Zurich Poly, after initial failure in entrance exam, is admitted to physics section (1896), and excels for first two years.
  • Loses interest and his performance plummets, barely earns his degree, refuses an assistant’s position.
  • Falls in love with classmate from Serbia Mileva Maric, marries her in 1903, has three children with her, but marriage falls apart in 1913 when he moves to Berlin; divorced in 1918.
  • Ekes out a living for 1900-02 before getting job at patent office in 1902 due to influence of Grossmann: “I am a cheerful fellow… and have no talent whatsoever for melancholic moods.”

Pic 2. Student at ETH (1898)


Pic 3. Young father, Bern (1904)


Scientific timeline

1900Max Planck begins the quantum era
1905The miracle year: quanta of light, special relativity, E=mc2
1906-7Quantization of energy, quantum theory of specific heat of solids
1908-10Wave-particle duality, failed theory of light
1911-15General Theory of Relativity
1916-17Foundation of quantum theory of light, randomness in atomic process
1924-5Quantum statistics (Bose-Einstein)
1925-6Quantum mechanics, Einstein’s response

This could have been approximately 8 Nobels, of them 6 in quantum theory, all in 20 years!!!

What was Einstein like?

  • Lots of joie de vivre, sense of humor, enjoyment of life’s pleasures
  • Lack of respect for authority, very independent and stubborn, rebellious.
  • Secular humanist, early proponent of universal human rights, always sympathetic to underdog, hated militarism.
  • Loved music and was also a well-rounded intellectual
  • Charismatic, adored by friends and attractive to women, young in spirit.
  • Deep thinker, not a mathematical genius, a “conceptual genius”. Intense curiosity about nature.
  • Talent for unification and simplification.
  • Flexible thinker: “entertaining the contradiction”.
  • Brilliant and insightful critic (including of Quantum Mechanics)
  • Science was his existential philosophy.

The strongest impression is one of stunning youthfulness, very romantic and… reminiscent of the young Beethoven… and then laughter erupts and one is faced with a student.

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.

Physics is an attempt to conceptually grasp reality as it is…, independently of its being observed.

Do you really believe that the moon exists only if I look at it?

A finely tempered nature longs to escape from the personal life into the world of objective perception and thought.

Pic 4. Music


Pic 5. Albert Einstein


Pic 6. Book cover


Description from Microsoft Research:

Einstein and the Quantum reveals for the first time the full significance of Albert Einstein’s contributions to quantum theory. Einstein famously rejected quantum mechanics, observing that God does not play dice. But, in fact, he thought more about the nature of atoms, molecules, and the emission and absorption of light–the core of what we now know as quantum theory–than he did about relativity. A compelling blend of physics, biography, and the history of science, Einstein and the Quantum shares the untold story of how Einstein–not Max Planck or Niels Bohr–was the driving force behind early quantum theory. It paints a vivid portrait of the iconic physicist as he grappled with the apparently contradictory nature of the atomic world, in which its invisible constituents defy the categories of classical physics, behaving simultaneously as both particle and wave. And it demonstrates how Einstein’s later work on the emission and absorption of light, and on atomic gases, led directly to Erwin Schrödinger’s breakthrough to the modern form of quantum mechanics. The book sheds light on why Einstein ultimately renounced his own brilliant work on quantum theory, due to his deep belief in science as something objective and eternal. A book unlike any other, Einstein and the Quantum offers a completely new perspective on the scientific achievements of the greatest intellect of the twentieth century, showing how Einstein’s contributions to the development of quantum theory are more significant, perhaps, than even his legendary work on relativity.

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