Albert Einstein was the ultimate
theorist, having spun out mathematical explanations of space and
time, gravity, atoms, and quantum phenomena. And yet Einstein also
had his experimentalist side too. He grew up in a household where
gadgets were all around (his father owned an electrical instrument
factory), and he worked in a patent office where a parade of
detailed engineering drawings came past his view every day. In fact
he built several practical devices and took out numerous patents of
One of Einstein's creations, which he called his
"Maschinchen," or little machine, sought to measure voltages at the
level of 0.0005 volts. This sort of precision is easy to achieve
nowadays but was not possible in 1907, when Einstein developed a
contraption which took charge induced on a metal plate by a weak
nearby potential and then stored it in a special accumulator; the
effect of the small voltage signal could then be multiplied.
known versions of this machine are known to exist, at least one of
which was used in an experiment conducted by Walter Gerlach (who
later worked on the Stern-Gerlach discovery of electron spin). Now,
two scientists at the University of Ghent in Belgium have performed
computer simulations to show in detail how the Maschinchen worked.
Danny Segers (firstname.lastname@example.org) says that he and Jos Uyttenhove
are building a replica to better explore Einstein's handiwork.
Segers and Uyttenhove, American Journal of Physics, August 2006
Contact Danny Segers, University of Ghent