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Kim Zussman on an Einstein Seminar at Caltech
(Disclaimer: did not attend IIT and have no claim to discuss anything deeper than pockets; however:)
Last night was first in series of lectures commemorating Einstein's most productive year, one century ago. The speaker, octogenarian emeritus history of physics professor Martin Klein, wove a deeply researched and fascinating story of Einstein's personal, educational and intellectual journey to what he himself considered a revolutionary paper at the beginning of 1905 (at a time, as Klein put it, when the term "revolutionary" was not applied to everything).
In contrast to popular descriptions of introspective endeavors, Klein makes the case that Einstein was very interested in explaining phenomena observed experimentally. Klein asserted that it was not possible, and probably not even useful, to attempt to explain behavior of the innumerable particles of matter by determining each individually. Boltzmann and others used statistics to describe the collective behavior of gas particles in a box as a distribution. However, there were difficulties characterizing electromagnetic radiation entering the chamber from its warm walls. Then-current thinking, based on Maxwell's work, described radiation as electromagnetic waves. Einstein's leap was in quantifying the radiation's entropy as would be done for an ideal gas. Light could be described as particles.
How and why he chose to look at light this way must have derived from Einstein's deep sense for the right questions (Klein says Einstein had a good "nose") and an unusually creative approach for solutions.
Klein, who faintly resemble the aging Einstein, graduated Columbia at 18 and was trained as a theoretical physicist after WWII. He taught many years at Yale and is a pioneer in the history of science endeavor and the Einstein papers project. He is not only a masterful student of the man and his physics, but an engagingly erudite speaker who comes highly recommended if the opportunity arises.