Zaragoza returned to 1923 last week – never leaving the present and looking ahead to the science to come – to commemorate the anniversary of Albert Einstein’s visit. With a dramatized reception on the steps of the Paraninfo building The XI Einstein Conference on Scientific Dissemination began on Monday 13, 50 hours in Zaragoza. Centenary of a visit’. In addition to a series of lectures, there were puppet shows, a scientific-tourist route, meetings with students, a video contest, a comic strip and even a dramatized dinner.
Yesterday and today
In the same building as Paraninfo, the former Faculty of Medicine and Sciences that hosted Einstein’s two lectures in Zaragoza, the series of lectures began with a look at the world in which the scientist lived when he made his trip. “A Europe in turmoil,” said Julián Casanova, professor of Contemporary History at the University of Zaragoza, after the “lasting mark of paramilitarism and violence” left by World War I and the fall of the great continental empires. When Einstein passed through Zaragoza, Spain, “the monarchical Restoration regime was in ruins, and nobody defended it when General Miguel Primo de Rivera overthrew it in September 1923, putting an end to the long constitutional experiment.” The academic authorities who received the German scholar, “many of them friends, would later suffer a deep division with the Republic and, above all, with the coup d’état of 1936”. The wars drove “the cream of scientists” into exile, including Einstein, who moves to the United States. “This connection with new knowledge has changed the American university”, he assured through his online connection from Michigan, at whose university he is a distinguished researcher.
After several decades studying the figure of Einstein, Javier Turrión is in a position to conjecture how the visit to Zaragoza was forged – having as a key figure the chemist from Sariño Casimiro Lana Sarrate – and the prestige he gave to the Academy of Sciences when someone who, after proving his theory in the eclipse of the sun in 1919, had become a myth, accepted his invitation . By making him a corresponding academician, “the Academy wants to show the world that it has prestige, to polish itself up.” At the same time, as Manuel Lorenzo Pardo will recall in the 1923 memory of the Academy of Zaragoza, it is possible for this “eminent man to repeat the name of the city”, proof that “universal and general esteem was sought”, said Turrión .
Less famous than relativity and the law of the photoelectric effect, which implied the quantum nature of light and won him the Nobel Prize, is Einstein’s work on the Brownian motion of molecules. It precisely connected him with the themes on which Antonio de Gregorio Rocasolano worked “at the highest level in the Biochemical Research Laboratory of the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Zaragoza”, explained Fernando Bartolomé, researcher at the Institute of Nanosciences and Materials of Aragon.
Manuel Asorey dedicated his conference to making the scientist’s legacy visible. The director of the Center for Astroparticles and High Energy Physics assured that “the creation of the relativistic theory of gravitation is arguably the most important contribution that Einstein made science” and described the process that led him to discover that theory, “considered by many physicists as the most beautiful ever formulated”. He underlined that “physics never stops and, although its theory is still valid today, it may have won’t be like that soon”. He encouraged young people that “inspiration catches them working”, since Einstein’s undoubted brilliance does not explain his results by itself: “He didn’t stop working, even on the day of his death he asked his block to continue calculating”.
Professor at the University of the Basque Country Marta Macho explained that presenting science as “an activity of solitary people, of great geniuses with a brilliance that makes them special, alienates girls above all”, who from the age of 6, according to studies , they perceive themselves as less brilliant than their peers. “If we thought of science as a collaborative activity, girls wouldn’t rule it out”, he said. This would help bridge the ‘dream gap’: the break between what they want, what they can become, and what they believe cannot be achieved.
This non-stop physics, which is carried out in large international collaborations, continues to be linked to Einstein’s theories. Alicia Sintes talked about the new era that opened in 2015 the first direct observation of gravitational waves, “new messengers from the universe that bring us new information” about black holes or supernovae. His team from the University of the Balearic Islands participated in its detection. We need extremely sensitive instruments because “these space-time ripples, which vibrate like a drum, when they reach Earth are minuscule.”
Science does not stand still and today it is moving towards quantum computers, with capabilities that we could hardly imagine and with the risk of compromising security around the world. It is worrying to think that this “‘atomic bomb’ of the future is not developed by governments, but by private companies that have hired our friends who, by contract, can’t tell you anything,” said Adán Cabello, professor of Applied Physics at the University of Seville. Understanding quantum mechanics “is a scientific problem”, he said, “applications will come”. He explained that the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to the authors of the first experiments that confirmed the predictions of quantum mechanics and showed that Einstein was wrong in this. “The physics that awaits us is incredible”he claimed.
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