A popular image persists of Albert Einstein as a loner, someone who avoided the hustle and bustle of everyday life in favor of quiet contemplation. Yet Einstein was deeply engaged with politics throughout his life; indeed, he was so active politically that the FBI kept him under surveillance for decades. His most enduring scientific legacy, the general theory of relativity -- physicists' reigning explanation of gravity and the basis for nearly all our thinking about the cosmos -- has likewise been cast as an austere temple standing aloof from the all-too-human dramas of political history. But was it so? By focusing on two examples of research on general relativity from the 1950s and 1960s -- the Shapiro time-delay test and early efforts in numerical relativity -- this lecture will examine some of the ways in which research on Einstein's theory was embedded in, and at times engulfed by, the tumult of world politics.
Co-sponsored by the School of Physics and Astronomy