More than one brain behind Einstein's famous equation
Two American physicists have revealed the contribution of a little known Austrian physicist, Friedrich Hasenohrl, to uncovering a precursor to Einstein famous equation.
Stephen Boughn from Haverford College in Pensylvannia and Tony Rothman from Princeton University in New Jersey highlighted the role played by Hasenohrl in establishing the proportionality between the energy (E) of a quantity of matter with its mass (m) in a cavity filled with radiation.
They argue how Hasenohrl's work, for which he now receives little credit, may have contributed to the famous equation E=mc˛.
According to science philosopher Thomas Kuhn, the nature of scientific progress occurs through paradigm shifts, which depend on the cultural and historical circumstances of groups of scientists.
Concurring with this idea, the American physicists believe the notion that mass and energy should be related did not originate solely with Hasenohrl. Nor did it suddenly emerge in 1905, when Einstein published his paper, as popular mythology would have it.
Given the lack of recognition for Hasenohrl's contribution, they examined the Austrian physicist's original work on blackbody radiation in a cavity with perfectly reflective walls. This study seeks to identify the blackbody's mass changes when the cavity is moving relative to the observer.
They then explored the reason why the Austrian physicist arrived at an energy/mass correlation with the wrong factor, namely at the equation E = (3/8) mc˛. Hasenohrl's error, they believe, stems from failing to account for the mass lost by the blackbody while radiating.
Before Hasenohrl focused on cavity radiation, other physicists, including French mathematician Henri Poincare and German physicist Max Abraham, showed the existence of an inertial mass associated with electromagnetic energy.
In 1905, Einstein gave the correct relationship between inertial mass and electromagnetic energy, E=mc˛. Nevertheless, it was not until 1911 that German physicist Max von Laue generalised it to include all forms of energy.
The paper is about to be published in EPJ H.