Einstein’s Legacy: Modern Physics All around You
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The name Albert Einstein conjures up some of the most brain-bending ideas in the history of science, notably his special and general theories of relativity and his key contributions to quantum mechanics. No concepts, it seems, could be farther removed from daily life. Or are they? It turns out that the abstruse theories developed by Einstein and the other pioneers of 20th-century physics show up in everyday activities such as these:

  • Photon Toast. The energy given off by hot objects, including toasters, was not understood theoretically until 1900, when Max Planck proposed the existence of quanta of energy, later termed photons. These ubiquitous particles of light became the basis for quantum theory.
  • Spacetime Navigation. The satellites in the Global Positioning System (GPS) map locations on Earth with amazing precision thanks to Einstein’s theories of relativity, which account for time dilation and spacetime curvature experienced by the satellites, which would otherwise be hopelessly inaccurate.
  • Quantum Sentinel. Smoke detectors can spot soot particulates in fast-burning fires thanks to a phenomenon called quantum tunneling, in which subatomic particles magically appear on the other side of a seemingly impenetrable barrier. Smoke disrupts the flow of these particles, initiating the alarm.

Given these and many other applications, our familiar surroundings provide a perfect vehicle for understanding contemporary physics, especially quantum mechanics. In 12 fascinating half-hour lectures designed for non-scientists, Einstein’s Legacy: Modern Physics All around You introduces the fundamental ideas that have changed our understanding of physical reality, while simultaneously improving our lives.

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