[FOUNTAIN]The dawning of ‘The Year of Physics’

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[FOUNTAIN]The dawning of ‘The Year of Physics’

FWhen the actress Cameron Diaz was interviewed by a movie magazine, the interviewer asked at the end if there was anything she wanted to know. She replied that she would like to know what E=mc2 really means. They both laughed, and then Diaz mumbled that she had meant it. This is how David Bodanis begins the preface of “E=mc2: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation.”
This equation, the most famous one of the 20th century and the most difficult to understand, has changed the face of the world. It altered the concept of time and space, and gave birth to the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The theory was promulgated in 1905, the year Korea and Japan signed the annexation treaty.
A century ago, Albert Einstein published three papers that are now considered to have expanded the boundaries of science. They were about the photoelectric effect, the special theory of relativity, of which the equation E=mc2 was the essential part, and Brownian motion, which provided evidence for the physical existence of molecules.
It was the law of the photoelectric effect, not relativity, for which Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921. In his theory, Einstein asserted that radiant energy consists of individual particles, termed “quanta.” The applications of Einstein’s achievements can be found in our daily lives.
Commemorating the centennial of Einstein’s three papers, the United Nations designated 2005 as the International Year of Physics. It also marks the 50th anniversary of Einstein’s death in 1955. On April 18, the anniversary of Einstein’s death, lights will be switched off at Princeton University. Starting with a ceremony proclaiming the Year of Physics on Friday, various events are scheduled throughout the year to commemorate this enlightening field of study.
Lately, Korean students have increasingly shunned science and engineering majors. Biomedical science is a rare exception, where the number of applicants increased this year, largely thanks to Dr. Hwang Woo-suk. However, physicists worry that physics, the foundation of basic science, is getting cold treatment from students. In the Year of Physics, let’s hope that more aspiring scientists dream of becoming not just the second Hwang Woo-suk but the Einstein of their generation.

by Lee Se-jung

The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
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