Einstein’s Legacy – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Einstein’s Legacy

A Harvard professor who is regarded as one of the premier science historians in the world and a University of Maryland physicist who expanded Einstein’s theory of gravity highlighted HWS Day in February.

The 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s “miraculous year” inspired Hobart and William Smith Colleges to devote HWS Day, an annual day of academic study, to exploring the life of the Nobel winning physicist. In 1905, Einstein laid foundations for three fundamental fields in physics: the theory of relativity, quantum theory and the theory of Brownian motion.

In conjunction with this World Year of Physics as declared by the United Nations, Hobart and William Smith Colleges hosted a full-day symposium on “Einstein’s Legacy,” capping off the day with presentations by two renowned Einstein experts: Peter Galison of Harvard University, who is recognized as one of the premier science historians in the world, and Sylvester James Gates Jr., an expert in superstrings and supergravity from the University of Maryland.

They presented public lectures at HWS on Tuesday, Feb. 22. Galison’s talk was held at 4:30 p.m. and Gates talk was held at 7:30 p.m. Both talks were held in the Geneva Room of the Warren Hunting Smith Library.

Galison is Mallinckrodt Professor of the History of Science and of Physics at Harvard. Galison’s most recent work is “Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps: Empires of Time” published in 2003 that is the third in a series of books on modern physics. His work is said to take readers into history, science, adventure and biography detailing Einstein’s life working in a patent office to detailing his rivalry with French physicist and philosopher Henri Poincaré. Indeed, this work forms the basis for his talk at HWS, which will also be titled “Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps.” Galison holds a bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degree from Harvard University.

Meanwhile, Gates’ research has expanded on Einstein’s theory of gravity and taken it to the next stage. In his talk at HWS, Gates discussed “Einstein’s Physics and Philosophy in the Third Millennium.” Also an author, he holds a bachelor’s and Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Most recently, Gates served as an international consultant to the government of South Africa providing scientific advice on the use of its national physics infrastructure and economic development and participated in discussions in the nation of Mali on the topic of science, research, education and development. He is the first African-American to be named to an endowed chair in physics in the United States.

Donald Spector, professor of physics at HWS who organized the day, was excited to host such leaders in science and to allow the community to explore the life of Einstein.

“Einstein went on to a life and career that not only shaped modern science, but also dealt in significant ways with moral issues, religious identity and questions of pacifism and nationalism. His work had a direct impact on public policy, philosophy and the arts,” says Spector.

Most people know Albert Einstein as the man with the wild white hair who determined energy is equal to mass times the speed of light squared, or E=mc2. But did you know?

• Einstein was a pacifist and an internationalist, writing and speaking frequently on these topics

• In a 1939 letter to President Roosevelt, Einstein warned FDR that the Germans could create an atomic weapon. This led FDR to set up the Manhattan Project, an effort to secretly develop an atomic bomb. Though Einstein’s formula E=mc2 was key to the project, Einstein was considered a security risk and was not involved.

• Einstein tried solving civil rights issues. Although his activism in this area is less well known than his efforts on behalf of international peace and scientific cooperation, Einstein spoke out vigorously against racism both in the United States and around the world.

• Einstein was offered the Presidency of the State of Israel, which he declined.

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