Theory Of General Relativity Marks 100th Year: Origins, Political Connections And Other Facts About Einstein's Theory

A century had passed since Albert Einstein presented his famous theory of general relativity to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in November 1915. After 100 years, the theory has made loud noises and noteworthy impacts, not only to the scientific community, but in history and politics as well.

Saying that Einstein's theory turned out to be a success is a safe statement. However, before it clamored the huge popularity it has now, it underwent ups and down, garnered believers and nonbelievers and even affected the political world.


In the 17th century, Isaac Newton developed a series of equations that described the physical features of moving things. One example is having the same equivalent among people, regardless of which so-called "inertial frame" they belong to. Simply put, two individuals moving in different directions could still see things in the same way.

In the 19th century, James Clerk Maxwell released a new set of equations that incorporated Newton's proposals and a new phenomena called electromagnetism. Through this new concept, objects alter its form during movement from one inertial frame to another. With this, a non-moving person can see clearly varied physical events compared to a person constantly moving.

In the 20th century, a group of experts postulated the Lorentz Transformation, which implies that length and time actually change, depending on which frame an observing person is in.

All these theories made Einstein wonder. Among his apprehensions was whether or not Maxwell's equations were just a math trick or something based on a fundamental concept. He also questioned the absolutism of time and space and the supreme importance of invariance principles of the laws of physics.

In 1905, Einstein then decided that the invariance in the laws of physics should be given utmost rankings. He came up with the principle of relativity, which theorizes the following: all inertial frames are equivalent, the movement of an observer, provided that it has constant velocity, has no value, and lastly, all laws of physics should have the same structure from all frames.

Einstein also studied the role of gravity and found that geometry was not absolute and could be affected by physical conditions.

All in all, it took Einstein eight years to formulate all these relationships between physics, time and geometry.


Einstein's theory did not only sparked changes and discussions among the scientific community as the political world was also affected.

Einstein's theory was formed at the height of World War I, meaning not many people and experts were made aware of the concepts. Some of the earliest converts failed to spread Einstein's works. Aside from that, Einstein's German nationality became a hindrance for letting his works cross the Western part of the world. Neither German scientific papers nor Einstein's letters were able to cross English borders. The physicist then travelled to neutral nations such as in the Netherlands. He frequently travelled to Leiden, where he met Willem de Sitter, a mathematical physicist, who also tutored him.

de Sitter sent Einstein's works to Arthur Eddington, an astronomer and physicist from Cambridge. Although filled with apprehensions, Eddington studied Einstein's theory, with the hope of healing the wounds left by the war.

After a year, when the war ended, Eddington said that Einstein's predictions were consistent with their team's measurements of stars during a then recent eclipse.

Fast facts

Despite his popularity and success, Einstein appeared to have had some issues with self-confidence. "The theory of gravitation will not find its way into my colleagues' heads for a long time yet, no doubt," he said to a friend back in 1915.

But look at where his theory has put him? Among the ranks of the most respected scientists in history.

In 2014, Russian Soyuz rocket accidentally placed two GPS satellites into the elliptical orbits, rather than in the circular paths. Although it meant an error, physicists looked at it as a great opportunity to test one part of Einstein's theory of relativity: clocks move more slowly when nearer a heavy material due to gravity's warping action over the fabric of spacetime. The results are expected towards the end of 2016.

One hundred years have passed but still Einstein's theory of relativity continues to serve humanity with concepts that could help solve the scientific phenomena such as the Big Bang, black holes and supernovae.

Photo: Anders Thirsgaard Rasmussen | Flickr

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