Physicist Albert Einstein, born this day in 1879, made contributions to the development of modern chemistry as well. His explanation of the photoelectric effect became the basis of the quantitative laws of photochemistry, as noted in this 2005 article.
Was Albert Einstein a chemist at heart? Today he is depicted as the archetypal theoretical physicist, filling the blackboard with arcane and semi-legible equations about the nature of space and time. But Einstein’s early work was largely concerned with the molecular nature of matter and was firmly rooted in the tangible and the mundane. Not only physicists but chemists too should be celebrating ‘Einstein Year’, the centenary of his most dramatic discoveries.
Einstein submitted his doctoral thesis to the University of Zürich, Switzerland, only that July, in which he presented a new way to calculate Avogadro’s number and the size of molecules. In the same month he published a paper showing that tiny particles observable under a microscope should undergo wild, erratic motions in a liquid, caused by the impacts of the solvent molecules – the phenomenon known as Brownian motion.
And in the only paper published in that miraculous year that Einstein himself actually considered revolutionary, he sought to explain how metals interact with light by introducing the idea of quanta – discrete packets of energy. All in all, it was a year’s work of which any physical chemist would have been proud.
But the main reason for proposing (even if somewhat with tongue in cheek) that Einstein was a chemist goes still deeper than this. Einstein did his seminal work at a time when boundaries had not yet been defined between physics and chemistry – those territories were in fact only then being contended, as physicists and chemists both strove to claim for themselves the exciting new fields of radioactivity and nuclear science.
Visit Chemistry World to read more about Albert Einstein.
Excerpted with permission, www.rsc.org/chemistryworld