Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Einstein ...

... and his theory of general relativity, which he published in the year 1915, some 10 years after his publication of his paper on special relativity theory. The latter is one of the five -- three of which are highly celebrated -- that he published in the year 1905; the centenary of these papers are being celebrated this year -- 2005 -- as the World Year of Physics.

All that is fairly well known -- particularly the latter part about his five papers of 1905. I won't claim to understand even a single one of them, so I won't bother to comment on them here. This post has a different purpose.

Some of you may have read James Watson's The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (if you haven't, I would strongly recommend it). In this book, Watson gives a frank account of the journey that Francis Crick and he undertook towards unravelling the structure of the 'molecule of life', the DNA. The best thing that this book is remembered for -- aside from the science -- is its ability to convey how science is done. In fits and starts, entering dark alleys that lead to a dead end -- and starting over, many times over. [There is also a strong emphasis on the highly competitive environment in which this research took place; this is not common to many areas of research, so I won't go into it]

It appears that Einstein too went through a similar process between 1905 and 1915. Over at Cosmic Variance, Clifford Johnson has a wonderful post about the tortuous path taken by Einstein before he finally hit the final version of his theory of general relativity. Do read it, even if you don't understand the science. Concentrate on the process; Johnson describes it in the middle part of the post.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Thanks for dropping by my blog.

    Would you recommend the The Double Helix as a Xmas gift for a PhD student, who obviously will go through dark alleys blah blah in his research? I don't think I will get thru such a book, but I am definitely looking for a gift that will be an inspiration (without being preachy or too obvious) for someone who does academic research. In your opinion, will this book fit the criteria? Thanks a bunch!! If it would, that would be a great load off my Xmas shopping worries..!

  2. Abi said...

    Sue, I would certainly recommend this book, which is a classic in science writing (it was published in the sixties, I think). It has a fairly accurate description of the environment in which competitive, cutting edge research is done.

    There is certainly a lot of inspiration in the book too, simply because they -- Crick and Watson -- got the crown jewel of biology (of that age). The book will certainly make a great gift!

    Don't be put off by the 'dark alleys' bit; it wasn't meant to be scary, but to convey an uncharted territory where one has to grope in the dark for the little nugget one is after. It is in the nature of research, and it is also a part of any new stuff that you get into, anyway.

    So, I would recommend that you buy two copies of this book. And, you keep one!