Quantum and Nuclear

Pre-empting Einstein

Stories from Physics for 11-14 14-16 16-19 IOP RESOURCES

Though the equation E = mc 2 is inextricably linked with Einstein, he was not the first person to propose the possibility of the equivalence of mass and energy:

  • In 1704, Newton posed the question: “Are not gross Bodies and Light convertible into one another, and may not Bodies receive much of their Activity from the Particles of Light which enter their Composition?”
  • J. J. Thomson, in 1881, noted that a moving charged sphere must produce a magnetic field, which modifies its own motion, effectively increasing its mass. He drew an analogy to a sphere moving through water. His analysis led to the conclusion the E = 34mc 2 for an electron in motion.
  • In 1900, Henri Poincaré linked energy with a ‘fictitious fluid’ with mass, m = c 2E.
  • In a lecture at Yale in 1903, Thompson mentioned the equation in the form E = mc 2.
  • In 1904, just a few months before Einstein’s paper, Friedrich Hasenöhrl presented a paper that argued E = 38mc 2. He subsequently published a correction, claiming E = 34mc 2.


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