AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXVI , No. 1, Spring 2004

One of the many photos in AIPís Web exhibit on Einstein at New material is being added to the exhibit to help those preparing for the centennial celebrations of his classic 1905 papers. Credit: Library of Congress, courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives.

Click on photo to see a larger image.

World Year of Physics 2005 Will Celebrate Einstein's "Miraculous Year"
The year 2005 will be the centennial of Albert Einstein's "miraculous year." In March of 1905 he sent the Annalen der Physik a paper that generalized Planck's quantum to explain the photoelectric effect, introducing the concept of the photon. In May he sent the journal a paper showing how Brownian motion could validate the much-debated theory of statistical mechanics. In a June paper he laid out his theory of special relativity, followed by one in September in which he derived the formula E=mc². Physicists and historians around the world are laying plans to use the centennial to celebrate physics and explain its importance to the public.

At the World Congress of Physical Societies in Berlin in 2000, more than 40 physics societies from around the world approved a proposal to declare 2005 as the World Year of Physics (WYP2005). The declaration was duly issued by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), with the goal of raising awareness of physics around the world. The proposal moved up to the General Assembly of UNESCO, which recently added its endorsement and invited the Director-General of the United Nations to request the UN General Assembly to declare 2005 the International Year of Physics. Meanwhile some groups have informally named 2005 the "Einstein Year."

Much of the WYP2005 activity will indeed revolve around celebrations of Einstein, his work, and his influence on modern life. While many historians of modern physics are being drawn in, the chief initiatives are coming from the science community. Physicists are concerned, as the WYP 2005 Web site puts it, that "The general public's awareness of physics and its importance in our daily life is decreasing. The number of physics students has declined dramatically. Action must be taken by the international physics community to share its visions and convictions about physics with politicians and the public at large." The centennial celebration of Einstein's legendary papers offers an opportunity for such action.

To coordinate efforts, IUPAP has set up an international steering committee with members from more than a dozen countries. International Preparatory Conferences took place in Graz, Austria in July 2003 and in Montréal in March 2004. In the United States the physics community's work is led by the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Institute of Physics, under the theme "Einstein in the 21st Century." The European Physical Society is likewise making preparations and urging all national physics societies to begin organizing for the year.

The World Year of Physics 2005 will get off to a running start with an event in Paris in January featuring prominent scientists and political and cultural figures. Another major conference will be held in Bern, Switzerland, where Einstein wrote the 1905 papers (there will be walking tours of Einstein sites for visitors and many other activities). Conferences involving both physicists and historians will be found in many other locales, for example Durban, South Africa; Alexandria, Egypt; Jerusalem and Beijing. Physicists in the United Kingdom will hold parties on March 14 to celebrate Einstein's birthday; the Max Planck Institute for History of Science in Berlin and others are organizing a Science Festival and an extensive Einstein Exhibition; the Korean Physical Society will mount an exhibition in Seoul featuring Einstein's work, and so forth.

World Year of Physics 2005In addition to organizing the many international conferences, symposia, and large-scale national projects, the planners are encouraging physics departments, science museums, teachers and others to plan local events. The WYP2005 Web site explains that "A WYP event can increase the profile of your organization, build relationships within your community, attract new avenues of funding and support, improve the communication skills of your staff and volunteers, and, perhaps most importantly, inspire the next generation of scientists." Further information will be posted on the Web site at as it emerges, and anyone planning an event is urged to submit information there.

The AIP Center for History of Physics maintains what is probably the most popular Web site for Einstein information, with thousands of visitors each day. Additions to the site will provide historical information for WYP2005 participants. A page of links and a bibliography by Historian David Cassidy, organized in categories and restricted to particularly useful items, are being updated every few months. Early this year the exhibit was enhanced with an essay by Gerald Holton on Einstein's worldview (from a recent issue of the journal Daedalus), and further supplementary material will be added from time to time.

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