Myth or Fact? #2- The world's most famous equation: E=mc²

in science •  3 years ago  (edited)

Probably the world's most famous equation: E=mc². Everyone of us heard that formula and some might even know what it says. The man behind is none other than Albert Einstein. Einstein was born in Ulm, a city in Germany on the 14 March of 1879 and later moved to the United States because of the persecution of the Jews. In 1921 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics. Because he is known to the most for his energy-mass equation, many believe he received the Nobel Prize for this formula. But is this true?

We will bring light into this myth and whether it is fact or fiction, we will find out.

Fig.1 Picture of A. Einstein. Credits

Energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared

First, let’s have a look at what E=mc² means. As the title points out it says that energy correlates to mass. Got it, no? Then let's dig deeper! Energy has the SI unit J which stands for Joule. Joule however comprises the basic units kg (kilogram), m (meter) and s (seconds). 1J can be described as 1 (kg*m²)/s².Take care of the right notation because for instance a small m means mass and the upper case M stands for mega (10^6 = 1.000.000). In science you have to be accurate, very accurate. Why do I tell you this? When you extend the equation to its basic units you will see that the left and right side has the same unit. Mass and energy are the same. Mass is nothing more than very densely packed energy. It tells us that one can be transformed into one another.

To give you a little sense how much energy a single gram of mass contain we will do a quick calculation. E=mc²=0.001 kg*(299,792,458 m/s)²= 8.98755179 10^13 m²/s² or 8. 9875517910^13 J or 89,875,517,900,000 J. Huge number right? But what we need is a comparison, maybe TNT? One kiloton of TNT is equivalent to 4.184 * 10^12 J. So, our 1 g of mass would have an equivalent of around 21.48 kT. The first atomic bomb that was tested above ground had an equivalent of around 21 kT and was dropped on the 16th of July 1945. Our 1 g mass has theoretically the devastating power of the first atomic bomb!

To come back to our question, did Albert Einstein receive his Nobel Prize for this formula? No, he didn’t, although he definitely deserved the Nobel Prize much earlier. He received his Nobel Prize in 1921 for another great discovery.

Photoelectric effect

In the same year as he released his paper „Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?“ in which he introduced e=mc² he published the paper „On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light“. In this work he describes the phenomena that electrons are solved from the surface of metals when irradiated with light. In particular he showed that light consists of photons with the energy h*f each. H stands for the Planck constant and f for the frequency.

Fig.2 Illustration of the photoelectric effect. Credits

As already said Einstein did deserve the Nobel Prize much earlier, however there was a problem with the committee. Most of the members where experimental physicists while Albert Einstein was a theoretical physicists. The committee had problems to understand and accept his work about „Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content“.

Luckily they did have more in favor with his more experimental work of the photoelectric effect. The next time someone tells you Einstein receives his Nobel Prize for E=cm² you will tell him:

I hope you enjoyed this episode of Myth or Fact. The next one will follow tomorrow.

Source of the scientific papers:
Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy
On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light

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Just an FYI, Einstein never said E=MC2 that's a reinterpretation of the actual formula he published and the real formula is actually more applicable and clear as I discussed last month.

Hope you'll enjoy the read, great article BTW!

Nice post @timsaid! Einstein is so much more than just E=mc2! I bet a lot of people didn't know he got his Nobel Prize for something entirely different.

Glad to see you enjoy it! And he is definitely more than just that. Hope that more people know that now :)


Thank you goldmatters!

You got me there! I really thought he got the nobel price because of the Mass–energy equivalence.

Good that things are now more clear :)

Nice post . It was a good read

Thanks rihchie!

My weight is about 80 kilograms, I believe I'm full of energy! Is that true? ;-)
Thank you for your post :-)

I bet you are! :)

He also said that there is nothing faster than speed of light, but when we look at the quantum level of physics we can see action and reaction can happen at the same time not 1 second or less but the same time when making changes in one particle here on earth we can see the changes being applied to another particle for example 10 light years away from the first one.

He couldn't explain how can this be.
Or when you throw a drop of green color the result is green, red, and blue but only if you do it in complete darkness, and when you look at the drop on it's way to the ground then result is a green spot on the floor and nothing else, meaning as long as you look at something or shed light on it that thing truly exist but Einstein said : "Even if I don't look at the moon in the sky moon will be there no matter what" well of course moon will be there because light has touched it already.

Scientists say that we could in theory create a big bang which leading to a whole new universe only with 10kg of mass but it will be the size of a coin and will vanish in less than a second.

About the entanglement in quantum my own opinion is that everything in entire universe acts like this : if you have a room with 2 doors on each side when you open one door, the air goes out from the other door equal to the air coming in but it happens simultaneously because the room can't have more air than it's capacity, now I know it sounds weird but I think quantum entanglement works like that. :)

This is for sure right, but did expend the what I was writing about. I focused on the myth or fact part to avoid getting to deep :)

  ·  3 years ago (edited)

In particular he showed that light consists of photons with the energy h*f each. H stands for the Planck constant and f for the frequency.

Sorry, I cannot resist to give more information, to slightly correct the above sentence (which is not 100% accurate :p). I hope you don't mind.

Theoretically, Einstein introduced the idea that light was made of particles between 1905 and 1916, and this was experimentally confirmed in 1923 through the observation of the Compton effect. This is why he had to wait for the Nobel prize. Note also that the name photons only appeared for the first time in 1926 (given by Lewis). The genius of Einstein with the photoelectric effect lies in proposing the idea that electromagnetic radiation is quantized.

PS: do not hesitate to come and say hi on the #steemSTEM channel.

PS2: very nice series of posts on the myths/facts stuff.

You are always welcome lemouth! You are definitely right. I thought keeping is short would be good. Next time I will consider to get more in detail.
Thank you for point it out


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