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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

On Einstein’s Formula E = MC2

Is Einstein’s E = MC2 a mathematical formula? Can it be used to calculate the exact amount of energy that is released when mass is converted into energy? In his book E = MC2: The Biography of the World’s Most Famous Formula, David Bodanis talks about the origin of E = MC2 and how it has transformed our view of the universe. He suggests that E = MC2 is not a formula for computation. Here’s an excerpt from page 26:

"A good computation is not simply a formula for computation. Nor is it a balance scale confirming that two terms you suspected were nearly equal really are the same. Instead, scientists started using the = symbol as something of a telescope for new ideas—a device for directing attention to fresh, unsuspecting realms. Equations simply happen to be written in symbols instead of words.

"This is how Einstein used the “=“ in his 1905 equation [E = MC2] as well. The Victorians had thought they’d found all possible sources of energy they were: chemical energy, heat energy, magnetic energy, and the rest. But by 1905 Einstein could say, No, there is another place you can look where you’ll find more. His equation was like a telescope to lead there, but the hiding place wasn’t far away in outer space. It was down here—it had been right in front of his professors all along.

"He found this vast energy source in the one place where no one had thought of looking. It was hiding away in solid matter itself."

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