Science Friday: E=mc2 Explained

With teh interwebs being inundated with pirates and Palinized turkeys these days, I was tempted to publish my lesser-known recipe for Turkpiralin on the blog. But since I prefer not to encourage violence toward turkeys (Palins and pirates are on their own), I'm going with science stories today. Specifically, this one:

PARIS (AFP) – It's taken more than a century, but Einstein's celebrated formula e=mc2 has finally been corroborated, thanks to a heroic computational effort by French, German and Hungarian physicists.
Of course, as Intelligent Design keeps reminding us, all of physics is just a theory, so this story should be taken with a grain of salt (or is that "an element of sodium"?...wocka wocka!). Nonetheless, I decided to take this opportunity to get my science geek fandom on and search for some of the coolest explanations of mass-energy equivalence (on only the most theoretical of levels, mind you) on the net. Pursuant to my dead-end quest for a rational graphical illustration of this formula, I am inevitably reminded of the necessity of language when representing (or developing, as the case may be) simple theories about such abstract concepts.

So, without further ado, to Dr. Brian Greene's nifty E=mc2 explanation we go:
E = mc2 is certainly a simple equation to write down, but it's a very subtle equation in some ways. You really have to keep your head on straight to recognize what the symbols mean in any given situation. With practice it's not hard to keep it straight, but it certainly is not an equation that reveals all its subtlety in the few symbols that it takes to write it down.

Einstein's main goal throughout much of his life was to unify concepts in physics that at first sight seemed completely separate, but through his genius he realized that they're actually different facets of the same thing. This is what he did in special relativity. He showed that space and time, two ideas that we had since the days of Newton and have long thought to be completely separate ideas, he melded them together into something called space-time and showed that they were actually two sides of the same coin.

After he united space and time together with special relativity, he realized a couple of months later that an outcome of that was to merge together two other ideas that had been around for a long time but had also been thought to be different. He put together the concept of mass and the concept of energy and showed that they are actually the same thing when you think about them correctly. So his equation, E = mc2, the E is for energy and the m is for mass, and he showed that given a certain amount of mass you could calculate the amount of energy it contains. Or, alternatively, given an amount of energy, you can determine how much mass you can create from it. So mass and energy, he showed, are the ultimate convertible currencies. They are different carriers of some fundamental stuff that you can call energy, with mass simply being one manifestation of energy. But there are other manifestations: heat and light, radiation, and so forth. These are now recognized to all be different facets of one idea, one entity called energy.
Of all the descriptions available from Nova's lineup of physics experts, I like Dr. Brian Greene's the best because he is able to communicate the theoretical (and philosophical) beauty of this formula without resorting to the grandiloquence that mars so many otherwise useful discussions of theoretical physics. Plus, his blatant Einstein fandom helps soften any pretensions he might otherwise be harboring.

Second, we go to Einstein himself for a briefer explanation:

(YouTube...a thing of beauty)

Finally, a simple poem:
Tao Meets (E = mc²)
Jim Culleny

I'm as left as I am right
as up as I am down
as in as I am out
as far as I am near

I'm loud as pianissimo
I'm bright as I am blind
as cool as caliente
as body as I am mind

I'm dark as I am light
as here as I am there
as seen as out of sight
depending upon your where

Long story short
I'm nuanced and mirrored
as (E = mc²)
Not bad.

Nothing New byslag at 12:27 PM

3 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here):

Gye Greene said...

1) Great Fozzie Bear allusion.

2) I remember in H.S. physics we had to calculate the amount of energy you'd get if you converted the mass of a marble into energy: it was **huge**. Explains why nuclear power is so... well, POWERFUL.

3) Word = "koels"

slag said...

GG: Thanks! Fozzie totally would have told that joke.

It's awesome that you did that calculation in HS physics. We dropped eggs from ladders. Waste of time.

Gye Greene said...

Oh, we also did the egg drop thing. But we were supposed to design and implement non-commercial packaging, to protect it.


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