The Einstein Factor

The world’s favourite physicist Albert Einstein is being portrayed once more in pop culture, this time with a new TV show based on his life. Genius arrived on our television screens at the end of April, and aims to “move past his scientific contributions”. This isn’t the first time that a hugely important scientist has had a depiction made of their lives which brushes over the work that made them famous – The Theory of Everything has also been criticised for overlooking the breakthroughs of Stephen Hawking.

It seems to be a common theme in films about the lives of scientists that the hard grind of discipline defining advancements are shown only briefly or not at all, but these are the achievements that the subjects spend decades dedicated to. Albert Einstein might have had a fascinating personal story, both politically and romantically, but to tell the story without having the theories that made him famous is to present an incredibly narrow view of his life.

So why not bring the juicy science stuff into the show? Here are some suggestions for spicy bits of research that would be fascinating to watch on the small screen.

Einstein’s theory of relativity, one of the two pillar stones of theoretical physics, is arguably his most influential work. This theory made the fundamental link between time and space, and showed that these dimensions are experienced differently by different people. In doing so, Einstein was able to explain how gravity works, i.e. that matter bends spacetime. Without this revolutionary theory, the universe and laws of physics would be far more mysterious than they are now – we wouldn’t be able to explain Mercury’s orbit or even have accurate GPS systems.

Relativity was far from his only breakthrough though – others, such as his theory of gravitational waves, were so far ahead of their time that researchers could only find supporting evidence in recent years. These are ripples in spacetime that transport energy in the form of waves, such as have been observed coming from decaying stars.

Finally, the sci-fi writer’s favourite trope – the black hole – would be far less understood if it wasn’t for the big man. Einstein’s collaboration with Nathan Rosen to create a model of wormholes deepened our knowledge of how the universe and black holes work, and once again was a major advancement in theoretical physics.

So maybe the next time we see a representation of ol’ Albert in pop culture, it won’t be devoid of all the exciting research that made him who he was.

[Louise Wylie – @WomanPendulum]

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