Atomic Spin-offs for the 21st Century; September 2004; Scientific American Magazine; by W. Wayt Gibbs; 8 Page(s)
In 1905 Albert Einstein was 26 and struggling to finish his doctoral dissertation on the size of molecules. To pay the bills, he worked at the Swiss patent office, analyzing the inventions of others. You would think his day job would have inspired Einstein to contemplate practical uses for the theories he was developing in his spare time. Yet he showed little inkling that year, as he published five of the most remarkable papers of his extraordinary career, that the new views of matter, energy and time he was urging would eventually inspire novel kinds of machines to advance human industry and health.
It isn't that Einstein disdained engineering. It just wasn't his strong suit: his own inventions, including a refrigerator with no mechanical moving parts and a leak-proof pump, never advanced to mass production. No matter; over the course of the 20th century, others built an impressive range of technologies [see "Everyday Einstein," by Philip Yam, on page 50] on Einstein's radical notions that light comes in individual packets, that those photons always obey a universal speed limit c, and that energy and matter can be interconverted: E = mc2, in mathematical shorthand.