Einstein was as much chemist as physicist
30 August 2005
Albert Einstein, whose greatest achievement is being commemorated internationally all this year, was a chemist at heart, a leading science writer claims in an article published in the Royal Society of Chemistry's magazine Chemistry World.
Writer Philip Ball says in the latest issue of Chemistry World that the man who produced the theory of relativity 100 years ago did so at a time when there was no clear boundary between chemistry and physics.
'Those territories were only then being contended as physicists and chemists both strove to claim for themselves the exciting new field of radioactivity and nuclear science.'
Ball makes the case in his article that much of Einstein's seminal work in 1905 was very much based in the world of chemistry
'All in all it was a year's work of which any physical chemist would have been proud,' says Ball.
'Today, chemistry is inconceivable without quantum theory. This aspect of Einstein's work has had a bigger impact on chemistry than on any other science.'
'Was Einstein a chemist at heart? Today he is depicted as the archetypal theoretical physicist, filling the blackboard with arcane and semi-legible equations about the nature of space and time. But Einstein's early work was largely concerned with the molecular nature of matter, and was firmly rooted in the tangible and the mundane. Not only physicists but chemists too should be celebrating the 'Year of Einstein', the centenary of his most dramatic discoveries.
'Indeed, when Einstein unveiled his theory of special relativity in 1905, his contemporaries might have been most surprised not at its revolutionary claims but at the fact that this astonishing piece of modern physics had come from someone who appeared to be embarking on a promising career in physical chemistry.'
The full article appeared on the Chemistry World website on Friday 26 August 2005.
Physicists the world over are celebrating the 100 year anniversary of Einstein's theory of relativity, but Philip Ball argues that Einstein was essentially a chemist
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