The only thing I have in common with Albert Einstein is his birthday. We were both born on Pi day, March 14. Pi day? Pi is 3.14 plus additional digits that go on forever. Thus, the mathematically inclined have adopted the day for its collection of numbers. March 14, 2015 will be an especially big day for mathematical celebration, since that will give the next two numbers in the sequence of Pi: 3.1415.
In any case, one of the things that Albert Einstein gave the world besides his birthday was the famous equation, E=MC2 which for most people is meaningless or something to put on a T-shirt to attempt to look more profound than if they were simply wearing the name of a beer company.
What does Einstein’s famous equation mean? It tells us that matter and energy are convertible. Energy may be converted into matter and matter can be converted into energy. More than that, it tells us that matter and energy are pretty much one and the same. Remember, the amounts on two sides of an equal sign are just that: equal.
So what are the implications of Einstein’s equation, along with his other theories? Well, the one most people are most consciously familiar with is the atomic bomb. His theories let everyone know that such a weapon could work. But of course, bombs are not the only nuclear technology. For instance, that bright yellow thing you see in the sky during the day, and the infinite number of small bright dots that you see at night, at least if you aren’t in a bright city, all function according to the laws that Einstein’s famous equation recognized.
Stars, our sun included, are examples of nuclear energy in action. In fact, what makes a hydrogen bomb go boom is what is going on with even greater power in the sun and stars every moment of every day. For those who worry that the electromagnetic and other radiation from things like their cell phones and microwaves might cause them harm, simply comfort yourself with the knowledge that the sun and stars are bathing you with far more energy each second than your cell phone could give you in a thousand years.
Given that the stars and sun function so well and safely, one wonders why people are so fearful of nuclear energy. Not too many years ago I got a tour of one of our nation’s nuclear submarines, the USS Jefferson City. It has a nuclear reactor on board that powers the sub and allows it to run for years without refueling. The submarine itself is about 360 feet long and 30 feet in diameter. The reactor that powers it is only 8 feet in diameter and generates enough electricity to provide for all the energy needs of a small city. Which makes me wonder why more small cities don’t build nuclear power plants. They’re cheap, safe and don’t pollute.
Other things that we take for granted thanks to Einstein’s theories and their implications are MRIs, nuclear medicine, radiation treatments, and all things electronic. Computers, cell phones, and similar gadgets all exist today thanks to Einstein’s theories, which others were able to build upon.
Turning now to the realm of science fiction, doubtless most have heard that it is impossible to travel faster than the speed of light. Given that some experts used to say that traveling faster than sound was impossible, a lot of people might be skeptical of the prognostications of experts on this subject. However, in this particular instance, skepticism is unwarranted.
That traveling faster than the speed of light is impossible is as certain as two and two equaling four. And our certainty is a consequence of such a simple mathematical equation. Back to Einstein’s famous E=MC2. What his equation, along with a few others, informs us, is that in order to accelerate a material object to the speed of light, it must be entirely converted into energy. And there’s the rub. Once it’s all energy, there’s nothing left to boost the power. You’ve spent your wad and you simply aren’t going to be able to go any faster.
This is not to say, however, that getting from point A to point B faster than a beam of light is necessarily impossible. How can that be? Buried in Einstein’s theories are some potential loopholes relating to the behavior of space-time itself.
New research may have brought us one step closer to being able to explore the universe in a starship capable of getting somewhere faster than light. The analysis of the concept of a warp drive by Chris Van Den Broeck of the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium means that building the starship Enterprise is a little closer.
Dr Van Den Broeck was reanalyzing ground-breaking calculations made in 1994 by Mexican mathematician Miguel Alcubierre. Alcubierre argued that it was possible to create a warp drive that would function by distorting the fabric of space-time. Starships would be able to ride along waves in space-time, like surfers on waves in the ocean.
The idea relies on the concept that space is not empty nothingness. Strange as it may seem, space has a shape and substance that can be distorted by matter. In fact the force of gravity is actually due to the curvature of the fabric of space-time. Think of stars as ball bearings making dimples in a sheet of rubber, and then imagine how other ball bearings rolling on the sheet would tend to fall into the dimples. Recognizing that gravity worked like that was one of the greatest triumphs of Albert Einstein’s career.
So you could use matter to distort the space around a starship to create a “ripple” in space-time, and if you could make space contract in front of the ship and expand behind it just so, you could get to where you wanted to go faster than light.
The universe is a peculiar place. The writers of Star Trek, who envisioned warp drives for the fictional USS Enterprise, never knew that they were predicting a real way to do what they needed for their scripts.