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September 20, 2005 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2005-09-20

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September 20, 2006

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news@michigandaily. corn SCIEN CE





Physics theme semester commemorates three ground-breaking papers by the legendary scientist
By Brandon H. McNaughton Daily Science Reporter
century ago in a German physics journal, "Annal-
en der Physikt" was a series of papers from the is
then young - and unknown to the scientific cor- I(~/~I T e~. . . . . . ~
munity - Albert Einstein.,' .'i'a. & Efns tefI, TvMd 3Z .
In that one ear, Einstein uncovered the nature of light,
created the framework for experiments that would prove rse,> 'Ft,3o ~~ Y, {.%.t'
matter is composed of atoms, and also developed a theory
of relativity, which forced us to radically change our view OJJvj SS < >
of mass, energy and time. The year 1905 has since become .
a year of legend, making Einstein an international icon.-Ab tE si$eRman4
"In 1905, Einstein had this miraculous year. He was°G"rm3n
incidentally a 26-year-old unknown with a day job," Phys- recive h
ics Prof. Dan Amidei said. r ,.com
These papers paved the way for the next century of py ..n.. ks wh h
physics and has given rise to our current scientific under- ;- n :S . Ks. ,pYe h4
standing of the world. 1896 to rvet-
To celebrate Einstein's 1905 papers and the subse- '... from gatfroh
quent accomplishments in the field of physics, the United r^b.i . .............................. h Sch z nt ri,'
Nations and the American Institute of Physics declared or ;d>h 4ds wbrI>
2005 as the World th Fed.ral., .....
Year of Physics. Pvytechr< 1898: Ftk#
The University h in -in kv with
The significance is celebrating the Germany re-wife
. . year by having a .V
of his papers intheme semester . ,
1 905 were that a "100 Years I9I rt r*0
Beyobs aehnd Einstei F e I 1
thybasically which wilinclude ,. r : ., 3 "F r; h; fi

made the
modern world."
-Leonard Sander
Physics Professor

on physics topics.
"It is an interna-
tional year of phys-
ics ... and here at
Michigan, since
we have these
theme semesters,
it seemed like a
great idea to get on

the bandwagon and join in the festivities" Amidei said.
The theme semester will not only reflect on Einstein's
discoveries and the discoveries in physics that have
occurred since 1905, but also the future direction and
unsolved problems of the field.
The chair of the physics department, Myron Campbell
said, "Einstein himself was a larger-than-life character."
Of the four papers, the first was on the photoelectric
During Einstein's time, light was mainly thought to
be made of waves, similar to sound propagating through
air in a wave-like manner. Through his paper, Einstein
was able to explain discrepancies between photoelectric
experiments and the wave-like concept of light. This cul-
minated in his argument that in addition to light having a
wave-like property, it is also comprised of particles called
This work led to a 1921 Nobel Prize in physics and
contributed to the development of quantum mechanics,
which is the field of physics that addresses the behavior,
of microscopic objects like molecules, atoms and even
smaller particles.
His second paper was on Brownian motion. On a
microscopic level, all objects randomly move in a vibrat-
ing motion. This is due to surrounding atoms and mol-
ecules striking the sides of an object. The phenomenon
was named after botanist Robert Brown when in 1827 he
observed the random jiggling pollen suspended in water.
But, until Einstein, no scientist had given a convincing
explanation of the random motion.
With his 1905 paper on Brownian motion, Einstein
suggested that the erratic motion of objects could be
explained by the idea that invisible objects, later identified
as atoms and molecules, were continuously bombarding
the object. At the time Einstein published his Brownian


motion paper scientists were still unsure if atoms and mol-
ecules even existed. But Einstein attempted to put the debate
to rest by arguing that Brownian motion resulted from the
existence of atoms.
Physics Prof. Leonard Sander, who will be giving a talk
on Nov. 2 called "Brownian Motion and Beyond," said it was
not until physicist Jean Perrin's work was published did the
scientific community finally accept the existence of atoms.
"The outgrowth of Einstein's work ... ultimately con-
vinced the last holdouts, and they were influential holdouts,
that the molecular theory of matter was correct - that there
were atoms and molecules, that you had to believe in them
and that they had macroscopic consequences" Sander said.
After these two remarkable papers, Einstein had two more
in 1905 - one was on special relativity, which showed that
time, mass and space change at relative speeds and that noth-
ing could move faster than the speed of light.
Einstein's other paper was on the consequence of the spe-
cial theory of relativity, his famous E = mc2 equation.
"The most important contribution that Einstein made ...

relates to defining and making clear the intimate connection
between space and time - the fact that we don't live in a
universe which has a spatial extent and an independent clock
ticking along, but that those two things, space and time, are
really inextricable coupled," Physics Prof. Timothy McKay
Sander said, "The significance of his papers in 1905 were
that they basically made the modern world. It's not too big of
an exaggeration to say that they made the modern world."
Einstein's subsequent work in the field of physics would
also elaborate on the theory of relativity while also attempt-
ing to create a grand unified theory of physics. But Einstein
asked many questions that he could not solve before his
death in 1955.
"I hope that some of the speakers at least will carry for-
ward the clear impression that this is not finished ... There
remains deep and fundament questions which are unsettled,"
McKay said.
For a schedule of events, go to www.Isa.umich.edu/lsath-

Astronomers contradict planet
formation theory with discovery
Gaps in disk sof gas F..
surrounding stars suggest .*!(F*'
existence of planets
By Ryan Anderson
Daily Science Reporter

Search for life on
Mars hits snag
with malfunction

What does a baby solar system look like? A
team of astronomers using the Spitzer Space
Telescope, may have found out.
In the Sept. 10 issue of Astrophysical Jour-
nal Letters, astronomers from the University
and various other universities announced the
detection of what could be planets around two
very young stars.' The discovery defies some
assumptions of the timeline of planet forma-
Stars form when giant clouds of interstellar
gas, composed mostly of hydrogen, collapse
under their own gravity. As the cloud collaps-
es, the center heats up drastically and forms a
star while the rest of the rotating cloud picks
up speed and flattens into a disk.
The astronomers used the Spitzer Space
Telescope's InfraRed Spectrograph, essential-
ly a prism for separating out the wavelengths
of infrared light, to study the light coming
from two stars: GM Aurigae and DM Tauri.
Both of these stars were emitting less energy

Scientists continue to
analyze cause of device
failure on spacecraft
By Ankit Sur
Daily Science Reporter
Mars Express, the spacecraft
launched by the European Space Agen-
cy to survey Mars, has encountered
an instrumentation problem that could
potentially curb the spacecraft's ability
to gather data.
Launched on June 2, 2003 with the
objective to survey the planet's atmo-
sphere, geology, surface environment,
history of water and its potential for har-
boring life, the spacecraft has gathered
data that has helped scientists to better
understand the planet.
For the past few weeks the space-
craft has experienced problems with its
Planetary Fourier Spectrometer, or PFS,
which is "used to detect anything from

water vapor to aerosols" according to
Sushil Atreya, professor and director of
the Planetary Science Laboratory at the
One of seven instruments onboard the
spacecraft, it has the capability to detect
biological markers that are produced by
living organisms.
One such marker is methane. On Earth,
methane is produced mainly from biologi-
cal sources.
With the tantalizing possibility of find-
ing microbes on Mars that produce meth-
ane, instruments such as the PFS are key to
the spacecraft's mission of deducing if life
currently or once existed on the planet.
Atreya said the problem with the PFS
onboard Mars Express has yet to be diag-
However, some believe that the vibra-
tions caused by the spacecraft's orbit
might be the cause of the malfunction-
ing PFS.
The ESA has set up an panel which is
attempting to investigate the exact cause of
the problem.

This artist's conception illustrates one interpretation of the data from the Spitzer Space Tele-
scope, which attributes a gap in a dust disk to planet formation.

urn, where small moons within the rings cause
gaps to form.
Calvet said for the star DM Tauri, it appears
that the entire center of the disk has been swept

years from early instabilities in the disk. Just
as a star forms when part of a massive nebula
becomes slightly more dense and collapses
under its own gravity, a similar process acts to


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