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Einstein's Big Idea

Program Overview

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Einstein NOVA explores the stories behind E = mc2 and relates how Einstein came to his startling conclusion that mass and energy are two forms of the same thing.

The program:

  • conveys the discoveries that various scientists made, the challenges they faced, and the determination with which they championed their ideas.

  • chronicles Michael Faraday's journey from bookbinder's apprentice to lab assistant and follows Faraday's quest to understand the interaction of electricity and magnetism.

  • introduces a young Albert Einstein, who was growing up at a time when new ideas about energy were being formed.

  • follows the life of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier as he investigates the nature of matter and devises experiments that show that matter is always conserved in a chemical reaction.

  • shows the central role that Lavoisier's wife, Marie Anne, played in helping him run his lab, illustrate his experiments, and translate other scientists' work.

  • describes how James Clerk Maxwell was able to mathematically show that light is a form of electromagnetism, a finding supporting Faraday's belief that light was an electromagnetic wave.

  • recounts Einstein's reflections on light and how he came to understand its nature.

  • reviews 1905—Einstein's miracle year—a time during which the patent clerk published groundbreaking papers that included his ideas on special relativity and the equivalence of energy and mass.

  • notes that Einstein spent four years answering queries about his ideas before his brilliance was fully recognized and he was appointed professor of physics at Zurich University.

  • relates the first confirmation of Einstein's equation in 1938 by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann who, without knowing it, split the atom—an accomplishment that was realized by Lise Meitner and Otto Robert Frisch.

  • notes how the splitting of the atom was applied to the creation of the atomic bomb.

  • concludes with ways E = mc2 is being applied by physicists today.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

Teacher's Guide
Einstein's Big Idea
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