[Marxism] Einstein and the Revolution of Physics

Les Schaffer schaffer at optonline.net
Sun Nov 6 00:39:39 MST 2005

Walter Lippmann quoted a Cuban article on Einstein's visit to the island:

>His main discovery was to make public that a particle of matter can become a
>huge amount of energy.

"discovered" in September 1905, by 1910 Einstein had temporarily given 
up hope of verifying his prediction. the equivalence of mass and energy 
was not confirmed in a careful experimental test until June 1932 by 
Cockcroft and Walton. using their newly developed and home-grown 600,000 
volt accelerator (attaching such a high voltage system to an *evacuated 
tube* was one of their major achievements), they accelerated protons at 
Lithium atoms, splitting the latter and producing two alpha particles. 
since the weights of the two alpha particles together is less than that 
of the heavier Lithium atom, they could calculate the excess energy 
released from the Lithium's "excess" mass using e=mc^2, and that matched 
with their measurement of the energies of the alphas.

this first nuclear reaction released approximately 14.3  (+/- 2.7)  
million electron volts of energy (the modern value is 17.337 +/- 0.007) 
. but these alphas will not split other atoms. so the energy yield was 
small compared to the fission of uranium that came 7 years later. 
uranium releases 200 million electron volts of energy AS WELL AS several 
extra neutrons upon fission. the chain-reaction is the real killer. The 
German Jew Lise Meitner was the first to put together a working 
theoretical model for this process that included a *mechanism* for 
conversion of this mass to energy, a story for another day.

of interest historically is the fact that it was not until February of 
1932 that the nucleus' constitution was understood. prior to the 
discovery of the neutron by Chadwick, the nucleus was presumed to 
consist of combinations of protons and electrons. only when this 
theoretical error was cleared up could the connection between nuclear 
binding energy theories (utilizing e=mc^2) fit so neatly with precise 
experimental determination of nuclear masses (Aston's mass spectrograph) 
that the whole e=mc^2 and nuclear physics project really get off the 

in the fission of uranium, only 0.09% of the mass of the U atom is 
converted into energy. the COMPLETE conversion of particle mass into 
energy was not achieved until electron-positron annihilation experiments 
were run, i believe first in the early 60's:


positrons are the anti-particle to the electron. the early annihilation 
experiments were at low collision energies and produced only photons -- 
light particles with no (rest) mass, all energy. as colliders became 
more sophisticated and powerful, these annihilation experiments came to 
reveal whole new classes of sub-atomic particles. now it is believed 
quarks can themselves be produced in energetic enough annihilation-type 
collisions. in effect, the annihilation mechanism converts matter 
briefly into pure energy, where upon that energy can interact with the 
(modern) vacuum to produce new and exotic particles.

such matter/anti-matter experiments have themselves a long entangled 
history of theory: in 1928 Dirac mixes special relativity and quantum 
mechanics in another e=mc^2-like tour de force to predict 
anti-particles, along with subsequent experimental discoveries, for 
example, observations of anti-particles, annihilation signatures, and so 

moral of the story: the working out of  a (scientific) revolution takes 
time. the subsequent effort combines both theoretical and experimental 

postscript:  PET -- positron emission tomography -- is a modern medical 
diagnostic technique that depends on these annihilations taking place, 
between said positrons, and electrons in the body's tissues.

les schaffer

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