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11/10/2004 08:00:00

Einstein: Release of Volume 9, The Berlin Years

PASADENA, Calif. - Early in the 20th century, scientists were grappling with a controversial and complex new theory from Albert Einstein: defying Newton's Principia that stated space was fixed and time was absolute, inexorably ticking away, Einstein's general theory of relativity held that matter actually changes the shape of a combined space-time. Further, that curved space-time tells matter how to move. Not only was his theory conceptually perplexing, at the time the observable consequences of it were few and minute.

In 1919 British astrophysicist Arthur Stanley Eddington took advantage of a natural phenomenon, a solar eclipse, to test Einstein's theory. The eclipse would allow him to observe the way the mass of the sun bent the path of light traveling from distant stars. Eddington led an expedition to the island of Principe, off the Atlantic coast of Africa, to observe the eclipse. If Einstein was right, the thinking went, the light would be bent twice as far as conventional Newtonian physics would allow.

While they were gone, Einstein waited anxiously in Berlin. Finally, months later in November 1919, Eddington announced that Einstein was indeed right, instantly making him the first science celebrity of our age.

Set in the turbulent post-World War I period, The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Volume 9, The Berlin Years: Correspondence, January 1919-April 1920, is the latest publication issued by the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology.

The present volume shows that Einstein was involved in numerous other issues, both personal and professional, during this period of his life. Piqued by early suggestions of a unified field theory, says Caltech's Tilman Sauer, one of five editors who worked on Volume 9, Einstein also pondered how to unify gravitation and electromagnetic field theory, and worked to resolve contradictions between the new quantum physics and relativity. "He also had many open-minded exchanges with colleagues," says Sauer, "that may challenge his later image as the stubborn critic of quantum mechanics."

The book also shows the nonscience side of Einstein, he says. "He was deeply engaged in discussing social and political issues, he participated in humanitarian efforts, and he intervened on behalf of intellectuals condemned to death after the fall of the Bavarian Soviet Republic," says Sauer. He also faced anti-Semitic outbursts, reflected increasingly on his own identity as a Jew, and assisted in efforts toward the establishment of the Hebrew University. As an internationalist opponent of war, and a German-speaking Swiss citizen whose renown was sealed by the Englishman Eddington's confirmation of relativity, Einstein mitigated postwar hostility toward German scholars.

Correspondence with family and friends documents his divorce, remarriage to his cousin, and his closeness to his two sons. Evidence in newly uncovered material shows there were efforts to lure Einstein back to Switzerland and also to the Netherlands. However, Einstein, entertaining high hopes for the young Weimar Republic, remained in Berlin. This volume reveals new facets of Einstein as he constructively participated in German and European scientific, academic, and cultural life.

Volume 9 is the second volume that the Einstein Papers Project has put out since it came to Caltech three years ago; some 20 more volumes are in preparation. The project has been described as the most ambitious publishing venture in the history of 20th-century science.

The overall project requires research into more than 60,000 documents, including correspondence, scientific writings, speeches on science and social issues, notebooks, diagrams, photos, as well as various contemporary materials and letters about Einstein penned by family members, colleagues, and the press. The collection of photocopies is housed in seven large, fireproof filing cabinets, each the weight of a baby grand piano. (Most of the originals are located at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the beneficiary of Einstein's literary estate.)

The editors are already working on Volume 10, which will be another volume of correspondence that will enrich the image of Einstein the scientist, philosopher, but also humanist, colleague, friend, husband, and father.

MEDIA CONTACT: Mark Wheeler (626) 395-8733

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Written by Marcus Woo