Nova (1974–…): Season 32, Episode 13 - E=mc²: Einstein's Big Idea - full transcript

This docudrama examines the history of scientific discovery that lead up to Albert Einstein's famous equation E=mc2 and its aftermath in the creation of nuclear energy. This includes Faraday's discovery of electromagnetic fields; Antoine Lavoisier's discovery that mass is never lost; and Emilie du Chatelet's demonstration that Newton's calculation of the velocity of a falling object was incorrect. By 1905, the miracle year where the publication Einstein's four physics papers changed over 200 years of scientific fundamentals, all of this came together with his now famous equation. Afterwards, Lise Meisner's work on uranium let to her conclusion that splitting an atom would release large amounts of energy.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it - foodval.com
---
When we think of E=mc2 we have this vision of Einstein as an old wrinkly

man with white hair. E=mc2 is not about an old Einstein. It's actually about a young,

energetic, dynamic, even a sexy Einstein. What would I see if I rode on a beam of

light? Perhaps some sort of electrical force is emanating outwards from the wire.

What? Faraday, my dear boy, electricity flows through a wire, not sideways to it.

You see, John? You see? It is my great ambition to demonstrate that nature is a

closed system, that in any transformation no amount of matter, no mass, is ever

lost, and none is gained. The people... Lavoisier. ...it is they who will determine

right and wrong. Emilie, you are being absurd. Why ascribe to an object a vague

and immeasurable force like vis viva? It is a return to the old ways. Are you capable

of discovering something of your own? I discovered you. There is no right time for



the truth. Fraulein Meitner? Yes? Otto Hahn. The nucleus is our focus. The Jewess

endangers our Institute. We can't harbor a Jew. If she stays the regime will shut

us all down. He's split the atom. No, no, no. You've split the atom. Energy equals

mass times the square of the speed of light. Would you like me to check your mathematics?

Google is proud to support in the search for Google. Major funding for is provided

by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, HHMI, serving society through biomedical research

and science Funding for Einstein's Big Idea is provided by the National Science

Foundation, America's investment in the future. And by the Alfred Sloan Foundation,

to enhance public understanding of science and technology. And the Department of

Energy, fostering science and security. Major funding for is also provided by the

Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by PBS viewers like you. Thank you. A hundred

years ago, a deceptively simple formula revealed a hidden unity, buried deep in

the fabric of the universe. It tells of a fantastic connection between energy, matter

and light. Its author was a youthful Albert Einstein. It's the most famous equation



in the world. E=mc2. All aboard. But while we've all heard of Einstein's big idea, very

few of us know what it means. In fact, E=mc2 is so remarkable that even Einstein

wasn't sure if it was really true. Albert, darling, you are later than I expected.

We've only got sausage and cheese tonight. What is it? We need to talk. Has something

happened? Oh, no, nothing, sorry, no. I spent most of the day staring out the window

at work looking at trains, and I started to think about an object and how much energy

it had. Can I explain it to you? Of course you can, but first, dinner—food and

talk. I think the gods are laughing at me. The gods were not laughing at Einstein.

He'd united, in one stunning insight, the work of many who had come before him,

scientists who'd fought, and even died, to create each part of the equation. The

story of E=mc2 starts long before Einstein, with the discovery of E—for energy.

In the early 19th century, scientists didn't think in terms of energy. They thought

in terms of individual powers or forces. These were all disconnected, unrelated

the power of the wind, the force of a door closing, a crack of lightning. The idea

that there might be some sort of overarching, unifying energy which lay behind all

these forces had yet to be revealed. One lowly man's drive to understand the hidden

mysteries of nature would begin to change all that. Young Michael Faraday

hated his job. He was uneducated; the son of a blacksmith, he'd been lucky to become

a bookbinder's apprentice. But Faraday craved one thing, he craved knowledge. He

read every book that passed through his hands. He developed a passion for science.

All of his free time and his meager wages were poured into his self-education. He

was on the threshold of an incredible journey into the invisible world of energy.

Faraday had impressed one of his master's customers and was rewarded with a ticket

that would change his life. Excuse me please. Can I pass, please? Can I pass? Some

of us are trying to improve ourselves, if people will let us. Of course, of course.

Pass, pass. This way to a better life. University of In the early 1800s,

science was the pursuit of gentlemen—something Faraday was clearly not. He had

a rudimentary education, he'd read widely, he'd gone to public lectures, but in

he was given tickets to hear Sir Humphry Davy, the most prominent chemist of the

age. Nineteenth century scientists were the pop stars of their day. Their lectures

were hugely popular, tickets were hard to come by, and Davy reveled in his status.

They're waiting. I know. He was also a keen follower of the latest nitrous oxide,

or "laughing gas." He said it had all the benefits of alcohol without the hangover.

Electricity, ladies and gentlemen, a mysterious force that can unravel the confusing

mixture of intermingled substances that surround us and produce pure, pure elements.

How do we do this? Davy was an absolutely first-rate scientist, however, many will

come to say that his greatest discovery is Michael Faraday. ...unknown metals. Unknown

that is until I isolated potassium from molten potash and sodium, as I showed you

last time, from common salt. That same metal... Faraday may not have been born a

gentleman, but he wasn't going to let class barriers stop him from pursuing a career

in science. He worked for nights on end to bind his lecture notes into a book for

his new hero. Lord, help me to think only of others, to be of use to mankind. Help

me be part of the Great Circle that is your work and love. Lord, I am your servant.

This is excellent work, Faraday. So, what is it you aim to do with your life? My

desire, sir, is to escape from trade—which I find vicious and selfish— and to

become a servant of science, which I imagine makes its pursuers amiable and liberal.

Really? Well, I shall leave it to the experience of a few years to set you right

on that score. Look, I haven't anything at the moment. I'll send a note if anything

comes up. Despite this humiliating setback, Faraday was determined to break free

from his daily toil. His patience was rewarded. Newman, meet Mr. Michael Faraday,

he's going to be my helper while I recover. He assures me he is a Christian fellow.

Perhaps with God and Faraday in charge of the chemicals you and I will be safe in

our place of work. Thank you, Professor Davy. Welcome Faraday. Oh, no, thank you.

And thank you, Sir Humphry. Just stick to your job and do as you're told, and you'll

be fine, Faraday. Faraday became the laboratory assistant, eagerly absorbing every

scrap of knowledge that Davy deigned to impart. But in time the pupil would surpass

the master. The big excitement of the day was electricity. Another charge, Newman.

The battery had just been invented and all manner of experiments were being done.

But no one really understood what this strange force of electricity was. The academic

establishment, at the time, thought that electricity was like a fluid flowing through

a pipe, pushing its way along. But, in a Danish researcher showed that when you

pass an electric current through a wire and place a compass near it, it deflected

the needle at right angles. This was the first time researchers had seen electricity

affect a magnet, the first glimpse of two forces,
which had previously been seen as entirely

separate, now unified in some inexplicable way. Faraday, come look at this. You're

the bright spark around here, perhaps you can work it out. Oersted's reported an

amazing finding. We're just replicating it here. Let's try the compass on the other

side. Now, that is remarkable. But if the electrical force is flowing through the

wire, why does the needle not move in the same direction, parallel to the wire?

Quite. Let's try turning the whole apparatus round. Again, Newman. So, the electrical

force goes this way, the compass points that way. How can one affect the other?

Perhaps the electricity is throwing out some invisible force as it moves along?

What? Perhaps some sort of electrical force is emanating outwards from the wire.

Oh, my dear boy, let me tell you that at the University of Cambridge, electricity

flows through a wire, not sideways to it. Well, that may be what they teach at Cambridge,

but it doesn't explain what's happening before our eyes. Now, now. Let's just get

on. Let's swap the compass to below the wire. Why the compass was deflected at right

angles, why the electricity was affecting the compass at all, dumbfounded Davy and

many others. As we celebrate the marriage of Michael and Sarah... For Faraday, however,

the problem became an obsession. It was a fascination inspired by his religion.

For him the problem was a way to understand God's hidden mysteries. There is a small,

almost persecuted group in London called the Sandemanians. They were religious...not

really a sect, they were just a small sub-sect, sort of like Quakers. Faraday was

a member of that group. It was a very gentle, decent group. They believed that underneath

the whole surface of reality, everything was created by God in a unified way—that

if you opened up one little part of it you could see how everything was connected.

Michael Faraday was someone who, like Einstein, thought in terms of pictures. Faraday

was different from anybody else. He had a flair for understanding his experiments,

for understanding what was really going on inside them. By methodically placing

a compass all around an electrified wire, Faraday started to notice a pattern. What

everyone else at the time had been taught was that forces travel in straight lines.

Faraday was different. Faraday imagined that invisible lines of force flowed around

an electric wire. And then he imagined that a magnet had similar lines emerging

from it and that those lines would get caught up in this flow. It was a bit like

a flag in a wind. But Faraday's great leap of imagination was to turn this experiment

on its head. Instead of an electrified wire moving a compass needle, he wondered

if he could get a static magnet to move a wire. I've never seen you like this, Faraday.

You look like a happy child. I'm shaking, Newman. Underneath I'm shaking. You see,

John, you see? Yes. This is the experiment of the century. It's the invention of

the electric motor. Scale up the magnets and the wires; make them really big. Attach

heavy weights to them and they'll be dragged along. But almost more importantly,

he's inventing a new kind of physics here. Although he didn't realize it at the

time, Faraday had also just demonstrated an overarching principle. The chemicals

in the battery had been transformed into electricity in the wire, which had combined

with the magnet to produce motion. Behind all these various forces there was a common

energy. A couple of months earlier, Davy had been elected President of the Royal

Society, which was the elite body of English science. But then he saw this great

discovery published in the Quarterly Journal of Science. I don't know if he was

envious, but he certainly saw that this young man who had been his assistant, this

mere blacksmith's son, had come up with one of the greatest discoveries of the Victorian

era. Davy accuses Faraday of plagiarizing similar work from another eminent British

scientist, William Wollaston. So Faraday, what does Wollaston make of all this?

He's written to me and assures me that he's taken no offense, and he acknowledges

that what I published was entirely my own work. Quite, quite. Davy is just being

an ass. But will Davy now retract his allegation? Sadly, no. In fact, he is still

vehemently opposed to you being elected a member of the Society. Really? And what

do you think? Faraday, my dear boy, you have my vote. And mine. And I believe you

even have Wollaston's. Oh, what a mess. Well, no matter, no matter. It's the science

that counts. So, tell me, how does this wire of yours spin round its magnet? What

mysterious forces are at play? There seems to be an electro-magnetic interaction.

In my mind, I see a swirling array of lines of force spinning out of the electrified

wire, like a spiraling web. But invisible lines of force? It's all a bit vague,

isn't it? Faraday, might I have a word in private? Certainly. Listen, Faraday, let's

stop this nonsense. I want you to take down your ballot paper from the notice board.

Sir Humphry, I see no reason to take it down. My friends have proposed me. It is

they who put the paper up. I will not take it down. Good day. Faraday was elected

to the Royal Society. Davy died five years later, a victim of his many gaseous inhalations.

In time, Faraday's world of invisible forces would lead to a whole new understanding

of energy. He'd started what Einstein would call "The Great Revolution." It was

in the very heart of this exciting new world of energy that Einstein grew up. My

father and uncle wanted to make their fortune by bringing electric light to the

streets of Germany. From an early age I loved to look at machines, understand how

things work. He's going to kill himself. Albert, stay there. I experienced a miracle

when my father showed me a compass. I trembled and grew cold. There had to be something

behind objects that lay deeply hidden. At high school, they had their ideas about

what I should learn, I had my own. I was merely interested in physics, maths, philosophy

and playing the violin. Everything else was a bore. Einstein, on your feet. As you

obviously know everything about geology, tell me how do the rock strata run here?

It's pretty much the same to me whichever way they run, Herr Professor. Einstein's

teachers tried to drum into him, as Faraday had shown, that energy could be converted

from one form into another. They also believed that all forms of energy had already

been discovered. Einstein was going to prove them wrong. He would discover a new,

vast reservoir of energy, hidden where no other scientist had ever thought of looking,

deep in the heart of matter. A hundred years before Einstein's birth, King Louis XV

the was on the throne of France, but the ancient, absolute power of the monarchy

over the people was starting to be challenged. Jacques, leave the windows, forget

the rain, we need air. The French Revolution was just around the corner.

This was the era of the Enlightenment, when intellectuals believed

very firmly that the way forward lay in science. And they felt that one of the first

tasks that lay ahead of them was to rationalize and to classify every single kind

of matter so they could see how it all interacted together. Antoine Lavoisier, a

wealthy, aristocratic young man decided to take up this task to see if there was

some basic connection between all the stuff of everyday life, all the different

substances in the world. But what worked for Lavoisier as a scientist—his meticulous,

even obsessive attention to detail—was also to be his downfall. Monsieur Lavoisier,

you are, if my eyes do not deceive me, consuming only milk this evening. First you

had a glass of milk, now you are "eating" a bowl of milk. Will you move on to a

plate of milk? Your precise observations commend you as a lady of scientific curiosity,

Mademoiselle, most unusual. As you seek knowledge, so I shall dispense it. For the

last five weeks I have taken nothing but milk. Good god, man, I would rather die

than fast on milk for five weeks. Are you in the grip of some horrendous ailment?

On the contrary. I am investigating the effects of diet on health. Monsieur, with

the greatest of respect to a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, your gut must

think your throat has been slit. Whereas your gut, Count, is, no doubt, petitioning

the Academy for a widening of your throat. Marie Anne, how dare you insult the Count?

Don't forget what the Count offers. Not just marriage, but think of how you will

be introduced to all the Salons. You will be the toast of Paris. Would it not be

a shame, Madame, to burden you with the duties of matrimony before you have had

a chance to experience your curiosity for nature? Shall we all go through? It's

getting rather hot in here. Do you really plan to marry de Amerval? There is a plan,

but it is not mine. Then I must contrive to save you. Lavoisier wasn't a scientist

by profession. He was the head of tax enforcement in Paris. His great idea was to

build a huge wall around the city and to tax everything that came and went. But

his taxes on the simple things in life—bread, wine and cheese—did not endear

him to the average Parisian. This scrupulous, fastidious young man did still allow

himself the occasional act of passion. In 1771, Lavoisier married Marie Anne Paulze, the

daughter of his colleague in the tax office. Thus he saved her, as he had promised,

from an arranged marriage to a count 40 years her elder. Allow me to show you something.

Lavoisier, I think, found his job as a tax collector really rather tedious, and

the times he looked forward to were the evenings and the weekends when he could

indulge his passion for chemical experimentation. And he called those times his

"jours de bonheur," his "days of happiness." Madame. What will happen if I take

a bar of copper or iron and leave it outside in the rain for months on end, Madame

Lavoisier? Mmmm, Monsieur Lavoisier? The metals what will become of them? Is this

a verbal examination prior to an examination proper, sir? I merely seek the truth.

Then you toy with me, Monsieur, for you know the truth. The copper will become covered

in a green verdigris and the iron will rust. I believe the term is "calcined." Most

impressive, my charming wife. But let me press you further. Mmmm. When the metal

rusts, does it get heavier or lighter? Why, sir, I think you mean to trap me. Then

perhaps this little butterfly should land and allow me take a closer look. Every

last citizen in France of sensible age knows that when a metal rusts it wastes away,

it gets lighter and eventually disappears. Ah, but... Huh? Stop. I have not finished.

Contain yourself, sir. There is more. In a recently published pamphlet by a brilliant

young chemist, Antoine Lavoisier demonstrates that the iron combines with the air.

It, in fact, becomes heavier. Most impressive. I intend... Now whatever you intend,

Monsieur, I intend to be by your side. I will learn all I can about your science

and become your worthy colleague. Then let me show you how the iron combines with

the air to form such a delicate union. Tomorrow, Monsieur, tomorrow. Marie Anne

learned chemistry at her husband's side, but soon sought other ways to contribute

to his work. She learned English so that she could translate contemporary scientific

works. She took drawing lessons so that she could record in forensic detail the

minutiae of their work together. She ran their laboratory and was the public face

of "Lavoisier, Inc." She was central to the whole research effort. Monsieur, that

is a terrible thing to say. You are a cheeky man. This way please, gentlemen. Messieurs,

it is my great ambition to demonstrate that nature is a closed system, that in any

transformation, no amount of matter, no mass, is ever lost, and none is gained.

Over here, please. This precise amount of water is heated to steam. This steam is

brought into contact with a red hot iron barrel embedded in the coals. From this

end, we cool the steam, but, interestingly, we collect less water than we started

with. So clearly we lose a certain amount of water. However, we also collect a gas,

and the weight of the iron barrel increases. Now, when we combine these two increases,

the new weight of the iron barrel and the gas we have collected, they are exactly

equal to the weight of the lost water. Aha! But is it atmospheric air, Monsieur

Lavoisier? No, no because I am measuring it, to the very last grain, I can see that

it is lighter than the air around us, and moreover, it is flammable. Voila. Water

is made out of hydrogen and oxygen. So what he had done is get the oxygen to stick

to the inside of a red hot iron rifle barrel. He was basically just making rust,

which is oxygen iron, but he was making the rust really quickly. Now that left the

hydrogen— what he called combustible "air"—and that was just floating around

as a gas. No mass had been lost, it had merely been transformed, and now he wanted

to transform it all back into water. This is only the beginning. In the next few

months, I hope to demonstrate that I can recombine this combustible air with vital

air and transform them both back into water. I will recreate exactly the same amount

of water that was lost here in this process. It is my hope to complete the cycle,

water into gas into water, and not a drop lost. For a long time, Lavoisier had suspected

that the exact amount of matter, the mass, involved in any transformation was always

conserved. But to prove this he had to perform thousands of experiments, and he

had to do the measurements with incredible accuracy. That's where his great wealth

from being a tax collector came in. He could afford to commission the most sensitive

instruments ever built. He became obsessed with accuracy. But Lavoisier's exacting

methods were also starting to anger the growing mob of hungry, disenchanted Parisians.

Antoine, Antoine. Oh, wake up, Antoine. I'm sorry. What time is it? It is almost

time to receive Monsieur Marat. The Academy asked you to assess his designs. He

claims to have made a great discovery. Oh Antoine, have you forgotten? What? My

god, another charletan with an idea to peddle! God give me patience. Well, Monsieur

Marat. Monsieur, I have invented a device which projects an image of the substance

of fire onto a screen. You see, when a lantern is shone through a flame we see a

shimmering pattern above the flame. My device renders the substance of fire visible.

Have you collected it, this substance of fire? Have you trapped it and measured

it? Well, no, but, but one can see it. I'm sorry, in the absence of exact measurements,

of precise observations, without rigorous reasoning, one can only be engaging in

conjecture. So this is not science. I am not given to conjecture, Monsieur. No.

If you will you excuse me, I am extremely busy today. Thank you. Thank you. So that

is all? Then, good day, Monsieur. Let me guess, Marat. The King's scientific despot

has decreed that your invention does not conform to the version of the truth as

laid down by the Academy. Lavoisier, he talks about facts; he worships the truth.

Listen to me, my friend. They are all the same, the Royal Academies. They insult

the liberty of the mind. They think they are the sole arbiters of genius. They are

rotten to the core, just like every other tentacle of the King. The people, it is

they who will determine right and wrong. Don't worry. In my next pamphlet, I will

expose this persecutor of yours. For years the Lavoisier's burned, chopped, melted

and boiled every conceivable substance. They'd shown that as long as one is scrupulous

about collecting all the vapors, liquids and powders created in a transformation

then mass is not decreased. Liquids might become gases, metals may rust, wood may

become ash and smoke, but matter, the tiny atoms that make up all substances, none

of it is ever lost. The crowning glory of this opus was their remarkable use of

static electricity to cause oxygen and hydrogen to recombine back into water. What

is happening? As the French Revolution exploded, the royal family and whole swathes

of aristocrats lost their heads on the guillotine. To the French revolutionaries of 1790s

Lavoisier meant one thing and one thing he was the despised tax collector who'd

built the wall around Paris. Lavoisier's job as a tax collector brought him under

suspicion. He was denounced by a failed scientist turned radical journalist, Jean-Paul

Marat. What Lavoisier did was absolutely central to science and especially to E=mc2,

because what he said is if you take a bunch of matter, you can break it apart, you

can recombine it, you can do anything to it, and the stuff of the matter won't go

away. If the mob burned Paris to the ground, utterly raised it, shattered the bricks

into rubble and dust, and burned the buildings into ashes and smoke, it turns out

if you put a huge dome over Paris and weighed all the smoke and all the ashes and

all the rubble, it would add up to the exact same weight of the original city and

the air around it before. Nothing disappears. A century later, all of nature had

been classified into two great domains. There was energy—he forces that animated

objects—and there was mass—the physical stuff that made up those objects. The

whole of 19th century science rested on these two mighty pillars. The laws that

governed one did not apply to the other. But young, newly enrolled physics student

Albert Einstein didn't like laws. Good grief, Einstein, what happened to you? It

is more than a little ironic, having been reprimanded yesterday by that idiot Professor

Pernet for poor attendance, that I should, in fact, attend a practical lesson which

was as long as it was boring, and utterly pointless by the way, only to be the victim

of an explosion of my own apparatus. And so it was your own fault then? Thank you.

And how are you today, Fraulein Maric? Extremely well, Herr Einstein. All the better

for seeing you have escaped the physics laboratory with your life. Well, in order

not to alarm you any further, I pledge to forever continue my studies here at the

Cafe Bahnhof, reading only the great masters of theoretical physics and eschewing

the babbling nonsense of the polytechnicians. Hah. That's about all you ever do.

It's getting a little stuffy in here, Fraulein Maric. Would you care to take a walk

with me? There's something I'd like to discuss with you. Why, Herr Einstein, of

course. Perhaps, you'd like me to tell you what you have missed in lectures this

week? Einstein wasn't exactly a model student.

He excelled in certain subjects, especially physics and math, but

he wasn't very diligent in a lot of his other classes. He was undoubtedly very questioning,

which seems to have annoyed most of his professors throughout his life. He would

pursue his fascinations with just incredible determination.

We know from his letters that Einstein, even from the age of 16 was literally

obsessed with the nature of light. Everyone he could speak to, his friends, his

colleagues, even his then girlfriend, Mileva Maric—who would become his wife—everyone

he badgered with the question, "What is light?" What would I see if I rode on a

beam of light? What? A beam of light? By what method do you propose to ride on this

beam of light? The method is not important. Let us just imagine we two are young,

radical, bohemian experimenters, hand in hand, on a journey to the outer reaches

of the universe, and we are riding on the front of a wave of light. I really don't

know what you are suggesting, Herr Einstein. Do you wish to hold my hand or ridicule

me? Ridicule you? No, never. I merely want you to help me to understand. What would

we see, do you think, if we were together, and we sped up and up until we caught

up to the front of a beam of light? What would we see? It was Einstein's relentless

pursuit of light, which would bring about a revolution in science. With light he

would reinvent the universe and find a hidden pathway that would unite energy and

mass. Light moves incredibly fast, 670 million miles per hour. That's why scientists use the

term c. It stands for Celeritas, Latin for "swiftness." Long before the 19th century,

scientists had computed the speed of light, but no one knew what light actually

was. Back in England, a man we've already met was willing to make an educated guess.

After Sir Humphry Davy's death, Michael Faraday became Professor Faraday, one of

the most important experimenters in the world. The scientific establishment still

found it hard to accept that electricity and magnetism were just two aspects of

the same phenomenon, which Faraday called "electromagnetism." But now he has an

even more outrageous proposal for his audience. ...invisible lines that can emanate

from electricity in a wire, from a magnet, or even from the sun. For it is my contention

that light itself is just one form of these vibrating lines of electromagnetism.

For 15 years, Faraday struggled to convince the skeptics that Light was an electromagnetic

wave, but he lacked the advanced mathematics to back up his idea. Eventually, someone

came to his rescue. Professor James Clark Maxwell believed in Faraday's farsighted

vision, and he had the mathematical skill to prove it. Maxwell and the aging Faraday

became close friends. James, James, forgive me. A word of advice don't get old. Michael,

how are you? Oh, I'm fine. Memory isn't too good though. Well, I thought you might

like to see what I've just published. Oh, yes, yes, splendid. So your results show

that when electricity flows along a wire what it actually does is create a little

bit of magnetism. As that magnetic charge moves it creates a little piece of electricity.

Electricity? Electricity and magnetism are interwoven, like a never-ending braid,

so it is always pulsing forward. That's wonderful. Michael, Michael. There's something

very crucial in the math. This electricity producing magnetism and magnetism producing

electricity, it can only ever happen at a very particular speed. The equations are

very clear about it. They come up with just one number, 670 million miles per hour.

I'm not sure It's the speed of light. That is the speed of light. You were right

all along, light is an electromagnetic wave. Maxwell had proven Faraday right. Electricity

and magnetism are just two aspects of a deeper unity, a force, now called electromagnetism,

which travels at 670 million miles per hour. In its visible form it is nothing other

than light itself. And nothing fascinated the young Einstein more than light. We

have lectures in half an hour. Oh, let me think. Professor Weber and his life-draining

monologue or you, Mozart and James Clark Maxwell? We can't. We'll get a warning.

Our project is too precious to waste time listening to those dullards. Come with

me. We'll read Maxwell and think about the electromagnetic theory of light. Oh,

why, my dear little Johnnie, how you enchant a lady. She's very pretty. Yes, but

can she soar and dance like our dark souls do? Maxwell's equations contained an

incredible prediction. They said you could never catch up to a beam of light. Even

if you were traveling at 670 million miles an hour, you would still see light squiggle

away from you at 670 million miles an hour. Do you see how she stares at that wave?

Yes. You see how, for her, it is static? She and the wave are traveling at the same

speed. We see the moving through the water. But relative to her it just sits there.

So is light like that? Common sense would say that if you caught up to a light beam,

there would be a wave of light, just sitting there. Maybe it would be shimmering,

a bit of electricity and a bit of magnetism. So, if she was traveling alongside

the light wave it wouldn't be moving. It would be static. But Maxwell says you can't

have static light. Maybe Maxwell is wrong. Maybe if you catch up to light it is

static, Albert, like a wave next to a boat. Imagine if I were sitting still and

holding a mirror to my face. And the light travels from my face to the mirror, and

I see my face. However, if I and the mirror were traveling at the speed of light?

You're going at the same speed as the light leaving your face? Exactly. The light

never reaches the mirror? So would I be invisible? That doesn't make sense. Young

Einstein was starting to realize that light was unlike any other kind of wave. Einstein

was about to enter a surreal universe where energy, mass and the speed of light

intermingled in a way no one had ever suspected. But there was one last mathematical

ingredient that Einstein would need, the everyday process of squaring. Long before

the French Revolution, scientists were not sure how to quantify motion. Equations

that explained how objects moved and collided were in their infancy. A crucial contribution

to this subject would come from an unusual source. Meet the aristocratic, 16-year

old daughter of one of King Louis the courtiers, Emilie Du Châtelet. Quickly, father's

coming. Emilie du Châtelet would have a huge effect on physics in her tragically

short lifetime. Unheard of, for a woman of her time, she would publish many scientific

works, including a translation of Sir Isaac Newton's Principia, the greatest treatise

on motion ever written. Du Châtelet's translation is still the standard text in

France today. Musa, mihi causas memora? Muse, my memory causes...? Muse. The causes

and the crimes relate; what goddess was provok'd, and whence her hate; For what

offence the Queen of Heav'n began to persecute so brave, so just a man." Do not

be cross with your sister because she persecutes many a just man. Only the other

night Emilie silenced the Duc du Luynes when she divided a ridiculously long number

in her head in a matter of seconds. You should have seen the incredulity on their

faces when they realized Emilie was correct. Was it my sister's astounding intelligence

or her boundless beauty that made their mouths gape, I wonder? Ah well, yes, you

have a point, Monsieur. Messieurs, I thank you for your kindness. I fear, however,

that my wit is only a curiosity to others. If only my mind was permitted opportunity.

My dearest, Emilie. You are blessed with intellect and courage. Use them both and

the world will fall at your feet. (Du Châtelet In one sense, she is a woman utterly

out of her true time and place. She is a philosopher, a scientist, a mathematician,

a linguist. She demands a freedom that women didn't begin to enjoy until over years

later, a freedom to study science, to write about it and to be published. Du Châtelet

married a general in the French army at age nineteen and had three children. She

ran a busy household, all the while pursuing her passion for science. She was 23 when

she discovered advanced mathematics. She enthusiastically took lessons from one

of the greatest mathematicians of the day, Pierre de Maupertuis. He was an expert

on Newton, and she was his eager young student. It seems they had a brief affair.

But then he set off on a Polar Expedition. Du Châtelet then fell passionately in

love with Voltaire, France's greatest poet. A fierce critic of the King and the

Catholic Church, Voltaire had been in prison twice and exiled to England, where

he became enthralled by the ideas of Newton. Back in France, it wasn't long before

he again insulted the King. Du Châtelet hid him in her country home. The poor little

creature is devoted to him. Isolated far from Paris, Du Châtelet and Voltaire turned

her chateau into a palace of learning and culture—complete with its own tiny theatre—and

all with the apparent blessing of her husband. There is a great deal of myth surrounding

Du Châtelet and her love life. And most of it is very exaggerated. But her husband

did accept Voltaire into his household, and he often went to Paris on behalf of

Voltaire. He went to his publisher to plead Voltaires' case, to keep Voltaire out

of jail. And it is also true that Emilie Du Châtelet did have several affairs of

a fleeting nature. She created an institution to rival that of France's Royal Academy

of Sciences. Many of the great philosophers, poets and scientists of the day visited.

Ah, Monsieur you are young. I hope that soon you will judge me for my own merits

or lack of them, but do not look upon me as an appendage to this great general or

that renowned scholar. I am, in my own right, a whole person, responsible to myself

alone for all that I am, all that I say, all that I do. Du Châtelet learned from

the brilliant men around her, but she quickly developed ideas of her own. Much to

the horror of her mentors, she even dared to suspect that there was a flaw in the

great Sir Isaac Newton's thinking. Newton stated that the energy of an object, the

force with which it collided with another object, could very simply be accounted

for by its mass times its velocity. In correspondence with scientists in Germany,

Du Châtelet learned of another view, that of Gottfried Leibniz. He proposed that

moving objects had a kind of inner spirit. He called it "vis viva," Latin for "living

force." Many discounted his ideas, but Leibniz was convinced that the energy of

an object was made up of its mass times its velocity, squared. Taking the square

of something is an ancient procedure. If you say a garden is "four square," you

mean that it might be built up by four slabs along one edge and four along the other

so the total number of paving slabs is four times four, is 16. If the garden is eight

square, eight by eight, well eight squared is it'll have slabs in it. This huge

multiplication, this building up by squares is something you'd find in nature all

the time. Emilie, Emilie, you are being absurd. Why ascribe to an object a vague

and immeasurable force like vis viva? It is a return to the old ways. It is the

occult. When movement commences, you say it is true that a force is produced which

did not exist until now. Think of our bodies, to have free will we must be free

to initiate motion. So, all Leibniz is asking is, "Where does all this force come

from?" In your case, my dear, the force, I'm sure, is primeval. Aaah, you're infuriating.

You hide behind wit and sarcasm. You only think you understand Newton. You are incapable

of understanding Leibniz. You are a provocateur. Everything you do is about something

else and makes trouble for you. Criticize this, denounce that. Are you capable of

discovering something of your own? I discovered you. Despite the overwhelming support

for Newton, Du Châtelet did not waver in her belief. Eventually, she came across

an experiment performed by a Dutch scientist, Willem 'sGravesande that would prove

her point. 'sGravesande, in Leiden, has been dropping lead balls into a pan of clay.

Dropping lead balls into clay? How very imaginative. Using Newton's formulas, Monsieur

Voltaire, he then drops a second ball from a higher height, calculated to exactly

double the speed of the first ball on impact. So, Messieurs, care for a little wager?

Newton tells us that by doubling the speed of the ball, we will double the distance

it travels into the clay. Leibniz asks us to square that speed. If he is correct

the ball will travel not two, but four times as far. So who is correct? Messieurs,

I feel Mister Newton's reputation dwindling, ever so slightly. Oh, Maupertuis, do

not succumb to her. There is no earthly reason to ascribe hidden forces to this

Dutchman's lead balls. Well, the ball travels four times further. Turns out Leibniz

is the one who is right. It's the best way to express the energy of a moving object.

If you drive a car at twenty miles an hour, it takes a certain distance to stop

if you slam on the breaks. If you're going three times as fast, your going sixty

miles an hour, it won't take you three times as long to stop, it'll take you nine

times as long to stop. Oh. Well, it does seem worth consideration. Perhaps we might

look over his calculations? I have already checked his figures. I am sure Leibniz

is correct on this point. I intend to include a section on this matter in my book.

Really? Do be careful, Madame. Do you think the Academy is ready for such an opinion?

Quite, quite. We really should be careful... "We?" I see no reason to delay. There

is no right time for the truth. Emilie du Châtelet published her Institutions of

Physics in 1740 and it provoked great controversy. Voltaire wrote that "she was a great

man whose only fault was being a woman." In her day that was a great compliment.

I am with child. You are sure? Undoubtedly. Two to three months. I'm afraid... You

are afraid? Well you should have...Oh, well, this child is obviously not mine, nor

is it your husband's. Oh, Emilie, Emilie. Emilie Du Châtelet knew that in the 18th

century, for a woman to become pregnant at the age of forty-three was really very

dangerous, and all the while she was pregnant she had terrible premonitions about

what was going to happen. All her life Du Châtelet had tried to rise above the

limitations placed on her gender. In the end it was an affair with a young soldier

that led to her demise. Six days after giving birth to her fourth child she suffered

an embolism and died. Emilie du Châtelet's conviction, that the energy of an object

is a function of the square of its speed, sparked a fierce debate. After her death

it took a hundred years for the idea to be accepted—just in time for Einstein

to use this brilliant insight to finally bring energy and mass together with light.

Einstein pursued light right through university and beyond. Unfortunately, he'd

upset so many professors that no one would write him a reference. He accepted a

low paying job in the Swiss patent office. He and Mileva married and had a child.

The young family struggled, but none of it seems to bother Albert. Einstein, I see

you are busy as usual. Look, Einstein, you have shown some quite good achievements.

But listen, about your promotion, I really think it would be better to wait until

you have become fully familiar with mechanical engineering. I'm sorry, perhaps next

time. But I wanted to hire a maid so I can get back and finish my degree. Now I'll

never pass my dissertation. Oh, come, come, my pretty little duck. All will be fine,

you'll see. But how will it be fine Albert? Do I have to just wait another year,

until you are promoted? All will be fine. All will be fine. You'll see. There really

is a very charming, but kind of a self-centered streak to Einstein. He focuses only

on his particular obsessions. If the rest of the world fits in around him, that's

fine, if they can't, it doesn't bother him. Albert, Albert, Albert. A pretty neck

and your head spins. Besso, we must behold and comprehend the mysterious. Well,

that kind of mysterious is going to get you into trouble. I'll tell you what is

truly mysterious, the secret of a long and happy marriage. Ha, ha. The mathematics

are fine, if a little unconventional. But this only works for big systems. It'll

fall down when you apply it to small systems. I disagree. Oh, no, here we another

grand theory by Herr Albert Einstein, Patent Clerk, Third Class. What would happen

if one applied those formulas to electromagnetic radiation? Albert, you can't just

borrow one bit of physics and apply it, without proper regard, to a completely different

area. Why not? Albert, I know you like the grand linkages, the big theories, but

wouldn't things be better all'round if you just got going in some small area, got

a university post. Get a decent wage, for God's sake. At least Mileva could study

again. Then she'd be happy and you'd be happy. Ah, the vulgar struggle for survival,

food and spoken like a true bourgeois, Besso. I want to know how God created this

world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or

that element. I want to know his thoughts. The rest are details. Yes, but you can't

feed your children on his thoughts, Bertie. So it turns out Einstein was going for

walk with his very close friend Michele Besso. They'd studied physics together and

talked about physics and philosophy for years and years. They were very close. They

had cornered the question of light from every possible angle. As Einstein and Besso

were ruminating on how much time it would take light to reach them from clocks at

different distances, Einstein had a monumental insight. Thank you, thank you! I've

completely solved the problem. Albert? What Einstein did was completely turn the

problem on its head. Other scientists had found it impossible to accept Maxwell's

idea that light would always move away from you at 600 million miles an hour, even if

you, too, were traveling really fast. But Einstein just accepted that as a light's

speed never ever changes. Then what he did was bend everything we know about the

universe to fit light's fixed speed. What he discovered was that to do that you

have to slow down time. (Physicist, Harvard His extraordinary insight is that time...as

you approach the speed of light, time itself will slow down. It's a monumental shift

in how we see the world. The instant, the very instant when Einstein had this brilliant

insight that time could slow down, well the floodgates began to open. You see, before

then people had assumed that time was like a wristwatch on God's hand, that it beat

at a steady rate throughout the universe no matter where you were. Einstein said

no, that the tick, tick, tick of this wristwatch was actually the click, click,

click of electricity turning into magnetism turning into electricity—in other

words, the steady pace of light itself. 1905 was a miraculous year for Einstein and for

physics. He had an unbelievable outpouring of creativity. It starts with his publication

of a paper on how to work out the true size of atoms. Two months later is the publication

of his paper on the nature of light. That's what will earn him the Nobel Prize.

The third paper, only a month later is on how molecules move when heated, and that

finally ends the debate on whether atoms really exist. The fourth paper is published

at the end of this half-year period. In it Einstein sets out his theory of light,

time and space. It was the "Theory of Special Relativity" that changed the way we

see the world. In Einstein's new world, the one true constant was not time or even

space, but light. But Einstein's miracle year was not over; in one last great paper,

he would propose an even deeper unity. As he computed all the implications of his

new theory he noticed another strange connection, this one between energy, mass

and light. Einstein realizes that the speed of light is kind of like a cosmic speed

limit, nothing can go faster. So imagine we have a train charging along. And let's

say it's getting up to the speed of light, and we're stuffing more and more energy

in trying to get it to go faster and faster, but it's still bumping up against the

speed of light. So all this energy, where does it go? It has to go somewhere. Amazingly

it goes into the object's mass. From our point of view, the train actually gets

heavier. The energy becomes mass. It's an incredible idea. Even Einstein is amazed

by it. Look. I think I have found a connection between energy and mass. If I am

right then energy and mass are not absolute. They are not distinct. They can be

converted into one another. Energy can become mass, and mass can become energy,

and not just energy equaling mass. Energy equals mass times the square of the speed

of light. Would you like me to check your mathematics? Einstein sent his fifth great

paper for publication. In three pages he simply stated that energy and mass were

connected by the square of the speed of light E=mc2. With four familiar notes in the scale

of nature, this patent officer had composed a totally fresh melody, the culmination

of his 10 year journey into light. Here we are, for thousands of years, thinking that

over here is a world of objects, of matter, and over there is an entirely separate

world of movement, of forces, of energy. And Einstein says "No. They are not separate.

Energy can become mass. And crucially, mass can also become energy." There is a

deep unity between energy, matter and light. "E=mc2." That equation shows that every

piece of matter in our universe has stored within it a fantastic amount of energy.

The speed of light for example is about 300 million meters per second, you multiply

that by itself and you get 90 quadrillion. So, in other words, what is matter? In some

sense, matter is nothing but the condensation of vast amounts of energy. So, in

other words, if you could unlock, somehow unlock, all the energy stored within my

pen, that would erupt with a force comparable to an atomic bomb. After Einstein's

fifth great paper, physicists no longer spoke of mass or energy. They are now the

same thing to us. Probably the most miraculous year in human science ends in silence.

The articles are published to resounding...nothing. I think the Gods are laughing

at me. Then slowly it a letter here, a letter there. For four years Einstein answered

each inquiry dutifully, trying to explain his difficult, complex ideas to a confused

physics community. I love the idea that life just went on as normal. Here are these

universe-changing papers circling around, and the world is struggling to come to

terms with them. Einstein had a fan club of just one. Luckily, it happened to be

the most important living physicist. Einstein, Einstein. Max Planck has sent someone

to see you. Max Planck? Yes, he has sent his assistant. He's here to see you. Max

Planck encourages the world's most eminent physicists to take Einstein seriously.

After four years of waiting he is appointed Professor of Physics at Zurich University.

From there his career is meteoric. He is made Professor of Physics in Berlin, achieves

world renown and becomes a household name. He is the undisputed father of modern

physics. But Einstein's success was the downfall of his marriage. In 1919 he divorced

Mileva and married his cousin. His fame led to numerous affairs. E=mc2 became the

Holy Grail of science. It held out the promise of vast reserves of energy locked

deep inside the atom. Einstein suspected that it would take a hundred years of research

to unlock it. But he hadn't banked on the Second World War and the genius of a Jewish

woman in Hitler's Germany. Twenty-eight year old Austrian Lise Meitner was painfully

shy. Despite her anxiety, the young Doctor of Physics arrived in Berlin determined

to pursue a career in the exciting, new field of radioactivity. Unfortunately, in 1907

German universities did not employ female graduates. Luckily, one man came to her

aid. Fraulein Meitner? Yes? Otto Hahn. I'm a researcher in the Chemistry Institute.

Professor Planck suggested Ah yes, Herr Hahn. I have read both your papers on Thorium

and Mesothorium. Dr. Planck suggested that Yes, he suggested I speak to you. I need

someone to collaborate with. I think I could really help with the physical analysis.

And the mathematics? Yes, yes, and the mathematics. Studying radioactive atoms has

become so much a collaboration between chemistry and physics these days. Yes, yes.

I'll ask Fischer for a laboratory then. Excellent. I'll speak to you soon. Lise

Meitner had just taken the first step on a journey that would irrevocably change

world history. For her, it would be a road marked with success and renown, but also

with terror and betrayal. At this time, not a lot was known about the atom. At first

people thought it was like a miniature cellular system, there's a solid nucleus

of the center and electrons would spin around it, sort of like planets around our

sun. A little later, some researchers proposed that the nucleus itself wasn't a

solid chunk but was made up of separate particles, of protons and neutrons. But

then, in what are called radioactive metals, things like radium and uranium, the

nucleus itself seemed to be unstable, leaking out energy and particles. Perhaps

this was an example of E=mc2, the mass of a nucleus turning into energy? Meitner

and Hahn's collaboration to unlock the secrets of the atom, started out on an extremely

unequal footing. He was given a laboratory. She was forced to work in a woodshop.

I see you haven't set your hair on fire? Herr Hahn? The boss. He thinks that if

he lets women into the Chemistry Institute they'll set their hair on fire. Ah, so

his beard must be fireproof. Good day, Herr Hahn. Good day. You see. I am nonexistent

to this place. At least physicists recognize me for my abilities. Ah, yes, where

would we chemists be without the steadying hand of the physicist? (Meitner It took

years, but Lise lost her shyness eventually. In 1912 she and Hahn moved to the brand

new Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry where their status was really that of

equals. Lise became the first woman in Germany to have the title of Professor. Lise,

I have news. You remember the art student I told you of? Yes. Edith. Yes, well,

I have asked her to marry me, and she has accepted. Ah. Doctor Hahn, congratulations.

Yes, well, I wanted you to be the first to know. I'm very pleased for you, very

pleased. Lise Meitner was warm hearted by nature, she had many friends, and she

may have wanted to have a closer relationship with Otto. But it really does seem

that physics was Lise's first love, maybe even her passion. The 1920s and '30s were

the golden age of nuclear research. The largest known nucleus at the time was that

of the Uranium atom containing 238 protons and neutrons. Meitner and Hahn were leading

the race to see if even bigger nuclei could be created by adding more neutrons.

So, the atom—pretty familiar, nucleus in the center, electrons orbiting around.

The nucleus is our focus. the nucleus, made up of protons and neutrons. Now, the largest

nucleus we know is that of the Uranium atom. Its nucleus is a tightly packed structure

of 238 protons and neutrons. The thrust of our work is to try to fire neutrons into

this huge structure, and if we can get a neutron to stick in here, it will be a

breakthrough. Meitner may have been on the brink of a major discovery, but Germany

in the 1930s was a dangerous place to be, even for a world-class scientist. The

Jewess endangers our Institute. When the Nazis came to power, one of the first things

they did was to drive out Jewish academics from the universities. Einstein was very

prominent, and for that reason he was one of the first to go. He was hounded out

of Germany in Lise was not dismissed at that time. She was able to stay because

she was Austrian. But in March 1938 Austria was annexed into Germany, and at that point

her situation became untenable. What is it? Frightening news. What's happened? Kurt

Hess is going around saying that I should be got rid of. I actually knew. I heard

today. I was going to speak to the treasurer of the Institute before I told you.

We'll speak to him tomorrow. Come on, let's get you home. It's late. We'll finish

up. The pressure on Meitner was unbearable. Hahn, who was known for his anti-Nazi

views, did his best to protect her, at least initially. I need to talk to you about

Lise. Not now, I'm too busy. We have to protect her. How? What can we do? The situation

is the way it is. Who knows what could happen next? She can't stay. It's just not

tenable. But she hasn't got a visa or even a valid passport, and she may soon be

forbidden to leave Germany. We can't harbor a Jew. If she stays the regime will

shut us all down. Lise, Horlein demands that you leave. You can't throw her out.

Horlein says you should not come into the Institute any more. Well, I have to write

up the thorium irradiation tomorrow, so I have to come in. You've given up. When

it became clear that Meitner would be dismissed and probably arrested, physicists

all around Europe wrote letters inviting her to conferences, giving her an excuse

to leave Germany. The Nazis refused to let her go. In July of 1938 a Dutch colleague

traveled to Berlin and illegally took Lise back with him on a train to Holland.

The trip was so frightening that at one point she begged to go back. Despite the

great danger, she got through. She had lost her home, her position, her books, her

salary, her pension, even her native language. She had been cut off from her work

just at the time when she was leading the field and was on the brink of a major

scientific discovery. No matter what privations she suffered, Lise was still thinking

of physics. Amazingly she and Hahn were able to collaborate by letter. I hope, my

dear Otto, that after 30 years of work together and friendship in the institute, that

at least the possibility remains that you tell me as much as you can about what

is happening back there. Lise was invited by an old student friend to spend Christmas

on the west coast of Sweden. Her nephew, Otto Robert Frisch, who was also a physicist,

came to join her there. Aunt? Aunt? Aunt Lise? How are you, my dear? Merry Christmas?

Aunt? I need your help, come on let's go out. But, I was hoping you'd help me. Back

in Berlin, Hahn was getting strange results. He found no evidence to suggest that

bombarding the uranium nucleus with neutrons had caused it to increase in size.

In fact, his experiments seemed to be contaminated with radium, a smaller atom.

He desperately needed Meitner's expert analysis. From afar, she was starting to

suspect that something very different was happening in their experiment. Hahn and

Strassman are getting some strange results with the uranium work. Really? A couple

of months ago Hahn told me that they were finding radium amongst the uranium products.

We are looking for a much bigger element, and here we are finding something much

smaller. I urged Hahn to check again, it couldn't be radium. And now he writes to

me and tells me that it's not radium, it's barium. But that's even smaller. Exactly.

Hahn is sure that it's another error, but I don't know any more. It is at least

possible that barium is being produced. So Hahn still needs you to interpret the

data. It is my work too, you know. Exactly. Well, I can't be there, can Come on,

let's walk. Surely, he's made a mistake, hasn't he? He hasn't done what you told

him to. My darling, Robert, he may not be a brilliant theorist, but he's too good

a chemist to get this wrong. If you imagine a drop of water, a big drop, it's unstable,

on the verge of breaking apart. It turns out that a big nucleus like uranium is

just like that. Now for four years Meitner and Hahn and all other physicists had

thought that if you pump more neutrons into this nucleus, it'll just get bigger

and heavier. But suddenly Meitner and Frisch, out in the midday snow, realized that

this nucleus might just get so big that it would split in two. If the nucleus is

so big that it has trouble staying together, then couldn't just a little tiny jog

from a neutron and... Yes, but if the nucleus did split, the two halves would fly

apart with a huge amount of energy. Where's that energy going to come from? How

much energy? Well, we worked out that the mutual repulsion between two nuclei would

generate about two million electron volts. But something has to supply that energy.

Wait, let me do a packing fraction calculation. The two nuclei are lighter than

the original uranium nucleus by about one-fifth of a proton in mass. What? So some

mass has been lost? Einstein's E=mc2? If we multiply the lost mass by the speed

of light squared we get...200 million electron volts. He's split the atom. No, no,

no. You've split the atom. It was an amazing discovery. Of course in the laboratory

we are talking about tiny amounts of uranium and correspondingly tiny amounts of

energy. But the point is that the amount of energy released was relatively large

and that came from the mass of the uranium itself. The energy released was entirely

consistent with Einstein's equation, E=mc2. Meitner and Frisch published the discovery

of what they called nuclear fission to great acclaim. But betrayal awaited them.

Otto Hahn was under pressure from the Nazi regime to write his Jewish colleague

out of the story. He alone was awarded the 1944 Nobel Prize for the discovery. In his

speech he barely mentioned the leading role of Meitner. Bizarrely even after the

war, Hahn maintained it was he and not Meitner who had discovered nuclear fission.

Now I want to write something personal, which disturbs me and which I ask you to

read with more than 40-year friendship in mind, and with the desire to understand

me. I am [now] referred to as "Hahn's long time co-worker." How would you feel if

you were only characterized as the longtime co-worker of me? After the last 15 years,

which I wouldn't wish on any good friend, shall my scientific past also be taken

from me? Is that fair? And why is it happening? Lise Meitner had been working on

this for 30 years. She'd only broken apart a handful of atoms, but that was enough,

once she had broken even one, the genie was out of the bottle. What Meitner had

started...after that physicists around the world began to realize they could take

it a lot further. In 1942 an intense effort to build an atom bomb was begun. All over

America, secret installations sprang up under the code name "The Manhattan Project."

Meitner was asked to join the Manhattan project, and she refused. She refused to

have anything to do with the atomic bomb. But Robert Frisch was different. He was

an important member of the team, because he was convinced of the need to beat the

Nazis in a nuclear arms race. A nuclear bomb was never used on Germany, but the

atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki demonstrated the terrible destructive

power of E=mc2. Vast amounts of energy, in the form of electromagnetic radiation,

were released from a few pounds of uranium and plutonium. While the pure inquisitiveness

of the world's most gifted scientists ironically had brought humanity a weapon of

mass destruction, the equation's life has a parallel story of creation and beauty.

Today, young physicists carry on Einstein's quest. Ever since its birth, E=mc2 has

been used to delve into the depths of time, to answer the biggest question of all,

"Where did we come from?" At particle accelerators, researchers propel atomic particles

to the speed of light and smash them together, creating conditions like those in

the Big Bang. E=mc2 actually tells us how the Big Bang itself happened. In the first

moments of creation, the universe was this immensely dense, immensely concentrated

eruption of energy. As it rushed apart and expanded, huge amounts of energy, or E, were

converted into mass or m. Pure energy became matter, it became the particles and atoms,

and it eventually formed the first stars. Our sun is a huge furnace, floating in

space, and it's powered by E=mc2. Now it turns out, every second, four million tons

of solid mass of the sun, disappears. It comes out as energy. Not just a little

bit of energy, it's enough to light up our entire solar system, make the solar system

glow with heat and light. And not only do stars emit energy, in accordance with

E=mc2, the whole process actually creates life itself. Eventually, a massive star

dies, the debris floats around, clusters together, gets pulled into the orbits of

another star and becomes a planet. We humans and the earth we stand on are made

of stardust; we are a direct product of E=mc2. Building on the work of scientists

through the ages, new generations are searching for answers. Using bold new tools

that reach almost to the speed of light, they can now ask questions that their predecessors

could never have even imagined. As Einstein himself knew, the journey of discovery

is sometimes painful, sometimes joyful. It is as old as human curiosity itself and

never, ever ends.