song du jour: Miss Riddle, Boz Scaggs

mood: TGIF...I guess

Light Speed

How it gets to be nearly a week between entries, I don't really know. Had lot's of stuff to write about, but NO time. For instance, last week, I watched Einstein's Big Idea on PBS. The theory of relativity fascinates me endlessly. Ya know, when one approaches the speed of light, time slows down, which really means that I ought to have more time for blogging as my life seems to move that fast. As a person, Einstein fascinates me as much as his theories, and the producers of the show did a great job of telling the story of physics as it should be told, as history of the people who figured out stuff. The fact that Einstein was lousy at math always warms my soul. I nearly flunked out of high school physics. I always ended up explaining the hard concepts to the so called 'smart kids' and then scraping by, barely, on the math, which I had repeatedly been told I couldn't do. There's a scene in the special where Einstein comes home all excited to tell his wife, the woman whose own physics career he pretty much destroyed in his selfishness, that he's just figured out special relativity. She stops setting the table, puts the baby down and says, "Would you like me to check your equations?"

As they showed the history of E=mc2 (squared not x2, but I can't make the keyboard do that on blogger), none was more interesting or news to me than the contributions of Emilie du Chatelet. She was incredibly brilliant and was also the driving force behind the salon that brought together the great thinkers/artists of the time. Her father wrote of her, "My youngest flaunts her mind, and frightens away the suitors." Votaire, with whom she had a life long friendship and a brief affair, wrote of her that her only fault was being a woman. It was considered a compliment at the time. What I find so inspiring about her is not merely her defiance of conventional gender roles (she certainly wasn't the only female in the history of E= ), but her obstinent belief that Newton hadn't gotten things quite right. She was interested in Liebniz's theories and insisted that the force wasn't doubled or even quadrupled, but squared. Who would improve Newton's theories? She proved she was right and united the current theories of with the Dutch scientist, 'sGravesande.

From the same site:
Du Châtelet and her colleagues found the decisive evidence in the recent experiments of Willem 'sGravesande, a Dutch researcher who'd been letting weights plummet onto a soft clay floor. If the simple E = mv1 was true, then a weight going twice as fast as an earlier one would sink in twice as deeply. One going three times as fast would sink three times as deep. But that's not what 'sGravesande found. If a small brass sphere was sent down twice as fast as before, it pushed four times as far into the clay. It if was flung down three times as fast, it sank nine times as far into the clay.

Du Chatelet deepened Leibniz's theory and then embedded the Dutch results within it. Now, finally, there was a strong justification for viewing mv2 as a fruitful definition of energy.

Du Chatelet was one of the leading interpreters of modern physics in Europe as well as a master of mathematics, linguistics, and the art of courtship. But there was one thing she couldn't control. In April of 1749, she wrote to Voltaire, "I am pregnant and you can imagine ... how much I fear for my health, even for my life ... giving birth at the age of forty." She didn't rage at the clear incompetence of her era's doctors; she just said to Voltaire that it was sad leaving before she was ready.

She survived the birth the next fall, but infection set in, and within a week she died. Voltaire was beside himself: "I have lost the half of myself—a soul for which mine was made."

Love those synthesis thinkers. As time goes by at this warp speed, I begin more and more to understand the wisdom of Hallmark. I remember as a kid reading the Peanuts cards at the drugstore (This is what we did before the invention of the web...or personal computers in every home for that matter.) and seeing the coffee mugs that said "I'd rather be 40 than pregnant." As the wave starts to appear still in my fast paced life, I'm truly growing to understand that the former will indeed be preferable to the later. ;-)

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