Documentary Review: Einstein’s Big Idea
Einstein’s Big Idea, E=mc2, is an excellent documentary for students at the high school level and above. It explains not just the science but the history of Einstein’s famous equation relating matter and energy, E=mc2. In four sections, Einstein’s Big Idea takes viewers inside the development of the concepts that underpin Einstein’s equation: energy, mass, the speed of light, and the concept of squaring. By telling the stories of the scientists on whose shoulders Einstein stood, the film provides viewers with a sense of how Einstein synthesized their work into one of physics’ most famous triumphs.
The first section, “E is for Energy,” tells the story of the young Englishman Michael Faraday and his studies with electricity and magnetism in the 19th century. Faraday’s extensive experiments, along with the work of his colleague, James Clerk Maxwell, led to the idea, around 1865, that light is an electromagnetic wave. Faraday and Maxwell, the film notes, built in turn on the earlier work of Leon Foucault, who calculated the speed of light to be 298,000,000 meters per second (m/s). This is remarkably close to the 299,792,458 m/s we use today.
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