The Big Bang Theory

Albert Einstein

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Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955), was a German-born physicist who developed the special and general theories of relativity and won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921 for his explanation of the photoelectric effect. Einstein is generally considered the most influential physicist of the 20th century. The touchstones of the era — the Atomic Bomb, the Big Bang, {[w|quantum physics}} and electronics — all bear his imprint. He was the embodiment of pure intellect, the genius among geniuses who discovered, merely by thinking about it, that the universe was not as it seemed.

During his stay at the Patent Office, and in his spare time, he produced much of his remarkable work and in 1908 he was appointed Privatdozent in Berne. In 1909 he became Professor Extraordinary at Zurich, in 1911 Professor of Theoretical Physics at Prague, returning to Zurich in the following year to fill a similar post. In 1914 he was appointed Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Physical Institute and Professor in the University of Berlin. He became a German citizen in 1914 and remained in Berlin until 1933 when he renounced his citizenship for political reasons and immigrated to America to take the position of Professor of Theoretical Physics at Princeton. He became a United States citizen in 1940 and retired from his post in 1945.

Einstein always appeared to have a clear view of the problems of physics and the determination to solve them. He had a strategy of his own and was able to visualize the main stages on the way to his goal. He regarded his major achievements as mere stepping-stones for the next advance.

At the start of his scientific work, Einstein realized the inadequacies of Newtonian mechanics and his special theory of relativity stemmed from an attempt to reconcile the laws of mechanics with the laws of the electromagnetic field. He dealt with classical problems of statistical mechanics and problems in which they were merged with quantum theory: this led to an explanation of the Brownian movement of molecules. He investigated the thermal properties of light with a low radiation density and his observations laid the foundation of the photon theory of light.

In his early days in Berlin, Einstein postulated that the correct interpretation of the special theory of relativity must also furnish a theory of gravitation and in 1916 he published his paper on the general theory of relativity. During this time he also contributed to the problems of the theory of radiation and statistical mechanics.

In the 1920's, Einstein embarked on the construction of unified field theories, although he continued to work on the probabilistic interpretation of quantum theory, and he persevered with this work in America. He contributed to statistical mechanics by his development of the quantum theory of a monatomic gas and he has also accomplished valuable work in connection with atomic transition probabilities and relativistic cosmology.

After his retirement he continued to work towards the unification of the basic concepts of physics, taking the opposite approach, geometrisation, to the majority of physicists.

Einstein's researches are, of course, well chronicled and his more important works include Special Theory of Relativity (1905), Relativity (English translations, 1920 and 1950), General Theory of Relativity (1916), Investigations on Theory of Brownian Movement (1926), and The Evolution of Physics (1938). Among his non-scientific works, About Zionism (1930), Why War? (1933), My Philosophy (1934), and Out of My Later Years (1950) are perhaps the most important.


  • In 1905, Einstein was 26, a patent examiner, working on physics on his own. After hours, he created the special theory of relativity, in which he demonstrated that measurements of time and distance vary systematically as anything moves relative to anything else. Which means that Newton was wrong. Space and time are not absolute, and the relativistic universe we inhabit is not the one Newton "discovered."
    • In March, Einstein created the quantum theory of light, the idea that light exists as tiny packets, or particles, that we now call photons. Alongside Max Planck's work on quanta of heat, and Niels Bohr's later work on quanta of matter, Einstein's work anchors the most shocking idea in 20th-century physics: We live in a quantum universe, one built out of tiny, discrete chunks of energy and matter.
    • Next, in April and May, Einstein published two papers. In one he invented a new method of counting and determining the size of the atoms or molecules in a given space, and in the other he explained the phenomenon of Brownian motion. The net result is a proof that atoms actually exist—still an issue at that time—and the end to a millennia-old debate on the fundamental nature of the chemical elements.
    • Then, in June, Einstein completed special relativity, which adds a twist to the story: Einstein's March paper treated light as particles, but special relativity sees light as a continuous field of waves. Einstein, age 26, saw light as wave and particle, picking the attribute he needed to confront each problem in turn.
    • Later in 1905 came an extension of special relativity in which Einstein proved that energy and matter are linked in the most famous relationship in physics: E = mc2. (The energy content of a body is equal to the mass of the body times the speed of light squared.) At first, even Einstein did not grasp the full implications of his formula, but even then he suggested that the heat produced by radium could mark the conversion of tiny amounts of the mass of the radium salts into energy.
    • In sum, an amazing outburst: Einstein's 1905 still evokes awe. Historians call it the miracle year.
  • In 1907, he confronted the problem of gravitation, the same problem that Newton confronted and solved (almost). Einstein began his work with one crucial insight: Gravity and acceleration are equivalent, two facets of the same phenomenon. Where this "principle of equivalence" would lead remained obscure, but to Einstein, it offered the first hint of a theory that could supplant Newton's.
  • Before anyone else, in 1909, Einstein recognized the essential dualism in nature, the coexistence of particles and waves at the level of quanta. In 1911, he declared resolving the quantum issue to be the central problem of physics.
  • Even the minor works resonate. For example, in 1910, Einstein answered a basic question: "Why is the sky blue?" His paper on the phenomenon called critical opalescence solves the problem by examining the cumulative effect of the scattering of light by individual molecules in the atmosphere.
  • Then, in 1915, Einstein completed the general theory of relativity, the product of eight years of work on the problem of gravity. In general relativity, Einstein showed that matter and energy—all the "stuff" in the universe—actually mold the shape of space and the flow of time. What we feel as the "force" of gravity is simply the sensation of following the shortest path we can through curved, four-dimensional space-time. It is a radical vision: Space is no longer the box the universe comes in; instead, space and time, matter and energy are, as Einstein proved, locked together in the most intimate embrace.
  • In 1916, Einstein devised an improved fundamental statistical theory of heat, embracing the quantum of energy. His theory predicted that as light passed through a substance it could stimulate the emission of more light. This effect is at the heart of the modern laser.
  • In 1917, Einstein published a paper that used general relativity to model the behavior of an entire universe. General relativity has spawned some of the weirdest and most important results in modern astronomy, but Einstein's paper is the starting point, the first in the modern field of cosmology—the study of the behavior of the universe as a whole. (It is also the paper in which Einstein made what he would call his worst blunder—inventing a "cosmological constant" to keep his universe static. When Einstein learned of Edwin Hubble's observations that the universe is expanding, he promptly jettisoned the constant.)
  • Returning to the quantum, by 1919, six years before the invention of quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle, Einstein recognized that there might be a problem with the classical notion of cause and effect. Given the peculiar dual nature of quanta as both waves and particles, it might be impossible, he warned, to definitively tie effects to their causes.
  • Yet as late as 1924 and 1925, Einstein still made significant contributions to the development of quantum theory. His last work on the theory builds on ideas developed by Satyendra Nath Bose and predicts a new state of matter (to add to the list of solid, liquid, and gas) called a Bose-Einstein condensate. The condensate was finally created at exceptionally low temperatures only in 1995.
  • After the quantum mechanical revolution of 1925 through 1927, Einstein spent the bulk of his remaining scientific career searching for a deeper theory to subsume quantum mechanics and eliminate its probabilities and uncertainties. It is the end, as far as his contemporaries believed, of Einstein's active participation in science. He generated pages of equations, geometrical descriptions of fields extending through many dimensions that could unify all the known forces of nature. None of the theories worked out. It was a waste of time—and yet: Contemporary theoretical physics is dominated by what is known as "string theory." It is multidimensional. (Some versions include as many as 26 dimensions, with 15 or 16 curled up in a tiny ball.) It is geometrical: The interactions of one multidimensional shape with another produces the effects we call forces, just as the "force" of gravity in general relativity is what we feel as we move through the curves of four-dimensional space-time. And it unifies: In the math, all of nature from quantum mechanics to gravity emerges from the equations of string theory.

References in The Big Bang Theory

Frame 76 - Albert Einstein

The opening theme  and photo-montage of The Big Bang Theory (The History of Everything) uses a picture of Albert Einstein from the Israeli 5 lira note. Two frames later E = mc2 appears.

In the Pilot, Leonard consoles Penny with the wave-particle duality, "No, it’s not crazy it’s, uh, uh, it’s a paradox. And paradoxes are part of nature, think about light. Now if you look at Huygens, light is a wave, as confirmed by the double slit experiment, but then, along comes Albert Einstein and discovers that light behaves like particles too."

In "The Fuzzy Boots Corollary", Leonard reveals he wants a genetically altered cat, stating, "I’ve been thinking about names, I’m kind of torn between Einstein, Newton and Sergeant Fuzzyboots."

In "The Cooper-Hofstadter Polarization", Leonard mentions, "It’s from the Institute for Experimental Physics. They want us to present our paper on the properties of super solids at the topical conference on Bose-Einstein condensates."

In "The Bat Jar Conjecture", Penny asks a question that acknowledges the Einstein-Lense-Thirring effect, "What artificial satellite has seen glimpses of Einstein's predicted frame dragging?" (Sheldon answers, "Gravity Probe B".)

In "The Euclid Alternative", Sheldon bemoans, "I just don’t see why I need a driver’s license, Albert Einstein never had a driver’s license." [1] Howard quips, "Yeah, but Albert Einstein didn’t make me wet myself at 40 miles an hour." Penny also snaps and replies, "Yeah, and I never wanted to kick Albert Einstein in the nuts."

In "The Electric Can Opener Fluctuation", Sheldon cites Einstein's cosmological constant, "But I would like to remind you that in science, there’s no such thing as failure. There once was a man who referred to his prediction of a cosmological constant as the single biggest blunder of his career. That man’s name was, surprise, surprise, Albert Einstein. Kripke rudely declares, "Yeah, but wesearch into dark energy pwoved that Einstein’s cosmowogical constant was actually wight all along, so you’re still, surpwise, surpwise, a woser."

In "The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary", Leonard jokes regarding time dilation, "How about that? Einstein was wrong. ...Approaching the speed of light doesn’t slow down time. Approaching them does."

In "The Maternal Congruence", Sheldon notes, "For a non-physicist, you have a remarkable grasp of how electric dipoles in the brain’s water molecules could not possibly form a Bose condensate." This is a reference to Bose-Einstein condensates.

In "The Einstein Approximation", Sheldon says, "When Albert Einstein came up with special relativity, he was working at the patent office." He finds a similarly menial job where his basal ganglia are occupied with a routine task, freeing his prefrontal cortex to work quietly in the background on his problem.

In "The Lunar Excitation", Sheldon refers to Albert Einstein establishing the theoretic foundation for the laser in his paper Zur Quantentheorie der Strahlung (On the Quantum Theory of Radiation) in 1917.

Tbbt04e02thecruciferousvegetableamplification 000911870

In "The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification", Sheldon shows Leonard a modified photograph of the 1911 Solvay Conference featuring Albert Einstein.

In "The Boyfriend Complexity", Sheldon states, "Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.[2] By that standard, Penny is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs."

In "The Thespian Catalyst", Howard reads a student review of Sheldon's lecture, "Does Einstein’s theory explain why time flies when you’re having fun, but when you’re listening to Dr. Cooper, it falls out of the sky, dead?"

In "The Wildebeest Implementation", Leonard asserts, "Excuse me, but Einstein had a pretty busy sex life." Sheldon responds, "Yes, and he never unified gravity with the other forces. If he hadn’t been such a hound dog, we’d all have time machines." [3]

In "The Roommate Transmogrification", though no direct reference is made to Einstein, mass-energy equivalence is cited as Penny uses innuendo with regards to Raj, "You know, if we weren’t friends, and you hadn’t brought up that creepy pornography story, I’d be on you like the speed of light squared on matter to make energy." Raj then exclaims, "Hey, you totally got that right! E equals M C squared." She doesn't know what it means by she remembered it.

Royal Bobbles Albert Einstein Bobblehead

In "The Rhinitis Revelation", the Einstein Field Equations, R_{\mu \nu} -\frac{1}{2}R\,g_{\mu \nu} + \Lambda\,g_{\mu \nu} = {8 \pi G \over c^4} T_{\mu \nu}, are visible on the kitchen whiteboard in tensor notation.

In "The Speckerman Recurrence", Sheldon accuses Dr. Saul Perlmutter of stealing Einstein's cosmological constant.

In "The Vacation Solution", Sheldon states, "Maybe that’s because I’m not being challenged. It’s the same reason Einstein failed math." [4]


In "The Higgs Boson Observation" and henceforth, Sheldon has an Albert Einstein Bobblehead on his office desk.

Leonard as Einstein

In "The Holographic Excitation", Leonard adopts the guise and accent of Einstein at a Halloween party.[5] After Bernadette points out his costume, Leonard employs his German accent which upsets Penny, "Ja, und later she’s going to arrest me for goink fashter zen da shpeed of light." He later instructs Howard about his amorous activities with Penny in the form of a euphemism, "Just explaining the theory of relativity. Twice."

In "The Parking Spot Escalation", Sheldon boasts, "I have been solely responsible for this university’s six loop quantum gravity calculations, I have changed the way we think about Bose-Einstein condensates, and I am also the one who got Nutter Butters in the cafeteria vending machine."

In "The Egg Salad Equivalency", Sheldon refers to himself as "Dr. Einstein Von Brainstorm."

In "The Cooper/Kripke Inversion", Leonard consoles Sheldon, "You just got stuck on a wrong path. It happened to Einstein; he got stuck on the unified field theory for decades." Sheldon retorts, "Oh, don't play the Einstein card! His great breakthroughs happened when no one knew anything. Everything was a great breakthrough."

  1. He never drove a car – "the Herr Professor does not drive. It is too complicated," Elsa explained to one visitor.
  2. He tossed off pithy aphorisms and playful doggerel as easily as equations.
  3. It is true that Einstein had a series of extramarital affairs.
  4. The Luitpold Gymnasium was in fact progressive for its time, and Einstein proved a successful pupil with good grades. He was consistently excellent at mathematics. In September 1896 Einstein took his secondary school leaving exam, or Matura, which permitted him to enter the Swiss Polytechnic. Out of a possible 6 points, he scored highest in algebra and geometry.
  5. He was the bumbling professor with the German accent. Albert Einstein's shaggy-haired visage was instantly recognizable. He variously referred to himself as the Jewish saint or artist's model. He was a cartoonist's dream come true.

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