HPS 0410 | Einstein for Everyone |

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John
D. Norton

Department of History and Philosophy of Science

University of Pittsburgh

- Kinematics and Dynamics
- The Basic Concepts of Dynamics: Two Relations
- Conservation of Energy and Momentum
- Achieving Unlimited Velocities in Classical Physics
- The Unlimited Momentum Loophole Closed
- Simple Redescription of the Growth of Mass
- E = mc
^{2}at last - Hear Einstein Explain It
- What You Need to Know

The World's Quickest Derivation of E=mc

Resolving Collisions in Classical and Relativistic Physics

Einstein's famous equation has grown into one of the great symbols of the 20th century. It is the one equation in science that people recognize, if any is. It has a kind of iconic status and dual connotations: the brilliance and insight of Einstein and the darkness of atomic bombs. Images.

So far we have looked at kinematics, the study of motions in space and time, and we have seen how Einstein's special theory of relativity has affected it.

In kinematics, all our analyses are given solely
in terms of the quantities space and time and
the other quantities that can derived from them. A familiar problem is to describe when (at what time) a moving body is where (in space). In kinematics we learned from Kepler that the motion of planets is along elliptical orbits. We learned from Galileo that the trajectories of bodies in free motion above the earth's surface is along parabolas. We can also talk of speeds and velocities (=speed in a particular direction) since speeds can be derived from spaces and times. Once you know when something is where, you can determine how fast it is going. One of the major discoveries of kinematics is that, for the same initial speed, the longest trajectory results when the motion is initially elevated at 45 degrees to the horizontal. Norton, The Gunner Shewing the Whole Practise of Artillery. London 1628 |
Berry History of Astronomy 1898 p. 186 |

We now look at dynamics,
the study of the *causes* that affect motion, where those causes
are forces. E=mc^{2} arises as part of the modification to
dynamics brought about by Einstein's theory.

In dynamics we expand our analyses
to include new quantities associated with the causes of motion. The
most important is force and two
quantities derived from it, energy and
momentum. We no longer just note that a tennis balls moves in a parabolic trajectory over the net. We also ask how hard we have to hit it--how much force we must apply--to send it along the desired trajectory. For the case of a cannonball, we now also ask how much gunpowder we need to load into the cannon so that the force of its explosion will send it on the desired trajectory. We want to know the energy and momentum imparted to the cannonball. It is the delivery of that energy and momentum to the target that wreaks its destructive effect. |

In kinematics, special relativity changes our normal
expectations. We find that the timing of events and distances and times
elapsed are judged differently by observers in relative motion. Most
relevant for the present topic, we find that we cannot accelerate anything
through the speed of light. We have to adjust our ideas about space and
time to accommodate this result. Since all these motions have causes
treated in dynamics, we must make corresponding changes in our theories of
these causes. When we make these changes in dynamics, E=mc^{2}
results. We shall now see how that comes about.

Classical physics and special
relativity agree in the following framework of basic concepts.
That is, they both employ the concepts of energy, momentum and force and
they both respect the two relations stated below that obtain between them.

**Energy:** I know of no useful definition for energy.
It is understood by example. When systems
interact, they exchange energy. For example, moving car has a certain
energy of motion that is converted to heat energy in the brakes when the
car is slowed. That energy originally came from chemical energy stored in
the gasoline fuel, which in turn was supplied as light energy to the
plants that became petroleum.

Momentum: The momentum of a moving body is
a measure of the quantity of motion. It is defined bymomentum = mass x velocity for a mass moving at the nominated velocity. The formula contains both mass and velocity since the quantity of the motion increases with both. (Which is the greater motion: an ounce of lead moving at 100mph or a pound of lead moving at 100mph?) |

**Force:** When two bodies interact, the force measures
the rate of transfer of momentum and energy,
such as through the two relations below. That is, it measures the
intensity of an interaction. It is roughly equivalent to the
pre-scientific notion of muscular effort. A push can set a heavy cart in
motion because it applies a force to it. Its size is given by the rate of
transfer of energy and momentum.

If
a *constant* force acts on a body, force, energy and momentum are
related by the simple relations:

Momentum gained by body
= Force x Time during which force acts

Energy gained by
body = Force x Distance through which force acts

These relations obtain in both classical and relativistic physics. We
shall see, however, that in the relativist context they turn into E=mc^{2}.

The most important laws in dynamics are those that state the conservation of energy and of momentum. These two laws can be applied whenever we have a closed system; that is, a system that does not interact with its surroundings. They assert that for such systems and any process they may undergo:

Total Energy at start |
= | Total Energy at end |
Total Momentum at start |
= | Total Momentum at end |

An isolated spaceship in deep space
is a good example to consider. Imagine some interaction that takes place
within that system. These laws tell us that the total of energy before the
interaction equals the total of energy afterwards; and the total of
momentum before the interaction equals the total of momentum afterwards.

Let's look at an example of such a process. A spacewalker stands
on the spaceship and both are at rest.
They have no velocity, so their total momentum is zero. Momentum =mass x velocity =mass x 0 = 0 |

Now imagine that the spacewalker
vigorously pushes off from the spaceship and floats off into
space. The spacewalker has gained some momentum. If the spacewalker has
mass of 200 pounds and moves off at 10 feet per second, he has gained
2,000 units of momentum. The law of conservation of momentum demands that
the total momentum of the two systems stays constant. That is the total
momentum of the spaceship plus spacewalker system must remain zero.

That can only happen if the spaceship gains a *negative*
momentum exactly opposite to the momentum gained by the
spacewalker. That is a momentum of -2,000 units. Then the sum of the two
will be zero.

-2,000 + 2,000 = 0

And that will only happen if the spaceship gains
a velocity in the direction exactly opposite to that of the
spacewalker's motion; that is, if the spaceship recoils. So
conservation of momentum demands a
recoil. |
If you want to keep doing the sums, we can figure out just how big the velocity of recoil must be. If the spaceship has a mass of 2,000 lb, then the recoil is just -1ft/sec. For then its momentum is 2,000x(-1) = -2,000 ft lb/sec |

Analogous considerations apply to the combined
energy of the spaceship and spacewalker. After the interaction both
spaceship and spacewalker have some energy of motion. That energy
originated as chemical energy stored in the muscles of the spacewalker,
before the spacewalker used muscle power to push off the spaceship. The
energy of motion gained by the system must match the chemical energy lost
from the spacewalker's muscles so that the total
energy stays constant.

Unlike relativity theory, classical physics allows us to accelerate bodies to arbitrarily high speeds. There is a simple mechanism for achieving these unlimited speeds in classical physics. If we keep applying a constant force to a body, the body will keep gaining energy and momentum and its velocity will rise accordingly.

How can we go about applying a constant force to
a body over a long enough time period to achieve very high
velocities? If the body is very small, it turns out to be much
easier than you might imagine. If the body is a very small
particle--an electron say--then the forces of
electric and magnetic fields can quite quickly accelerate
the particles to close to the speed of light. Over a hundred years ago, this happened in the first cathode ray tubes, that is, in devices like old fashioned TV tubes. If a high voltage is applied between two metal plates in a near evacuated vessel, the electric field resulting from the voltage is quite capable of pulling electrons off one electrode at very high speeds. This same technique is still used today in particle accelerators in which various particles are accelerated to close to the speed of light by combinations of electric and magnetic fields. |

What about accelerating ordinary objects up to very high speeds by ordinary means? What about the most familiar method of all, swatting a ball with a bat or a club? You might suspect that this procedure is self-defeating. If I want to swat a ball to get it to move quickly, wouldn't I need a faster moving bat to swat it with? And once it is moving fast, wouldn't I need a yet faster moving bat to get it to move still faster? So can the method only yield high speeds if I already have something moving at even higher speeds?

These worries turn out to be misplaced. It is easy to see
that a small ball at rest, hit by a much heavier bat, will be accelerated
to *twice* the speed of the bat. This, for example, is
pretty much what happens when a golf club hits a golf ball. The greatest
speed the ball can achieve is twice that of the club's head. The argument
that shows it is much easier than you would expect and uses the principle
of relativity to make it simple. Look here
for details.

Here's what we find happens when a small mass is struck by a very heavy mass moving at 100,000 miles per second. If the collision is elastic, the mass is boosted to 200,000 miles per second.

It also turns out that it is quite easy to imagine systems that use repeated collisions that would accelerate bodies, according to classical physics, to arbitrarily high speeds. Here's one simple set up. We have two very massive blocks rolling towards one another on rails. A small elastic body is trapped in between, perhaps suspended by a rope from a high support. It is set in motion by a collision with one of the blocks. The body then bounces back and forth between the two approach blocks.

With each bounce, according
to classical physics, the body gains the same increment of speed and same
increment in the magnitude of its momentum.

By choosing the sizes and distances carefully, we can set things up so that there are as many collisions as we like. While the mass bounces back and forth between the approaching blocks, the collisions happen more and more rapidly and the mass goes faster and faster. According to classical physics, this arrangement is quite able to accelerate the mass past the speed of light, as long as the blocks are massive enough and the materials strong enough not to break in the violent collisions.

These schemes illustrate how it is possible, according to classical physics, to impart unlimited momentum to a body and, as a result, to boost it to unlimited velocities, including those greater than that of light.

We have seen that relativity theory prohibits boosting bodies past the
speed of light. Therefore we must pay attention to how
it arises in classical physics. Then we can decide how we must
modify classical dynamics, so that it does not allow us to accelerate
objects through the speed of light.

Momentum | = | mass | x | velocity |

increases without limit |
fixed | increases without limit |

Recall that momentum is mass x velocity. Since the mass is
a fixed number, characteristic of the body, if the
body's momentum increases, so must its velocity. If its momentum
grows without limit, then its velocity also increases without limit. As a
result, classical physics tells us that we can accelerate masses through
the speed of light.

In relativistic physics, we can also supply unlimited momentum to a body. Indeed we can use the same mechanism as in classical physics--just set up a small object to collide with a larger one. And with successive collisions, we can supply more and more momentum to the small object. However, as we saw in the case of just one collision, these processes will never accelerate the small object past the speed of light.

Somehow we have to make sense of this prohibition on accelerating objects through the speed of light. We still have the relation momentum = mass x velocity. We can increase the momentum without limit. So why doesn't the velocity also increase without limit?

In the classical context, getting to the conclusion of
unlimited velocity depended on an assumption: the mass of the object is
constant. That is the only assumption we have left to adjust. That is how
Einstein modified dynamics in 1905. The mass of the
object *increases* with its velocity. Schematically:

increases without limit |
increases only as far as c |
|||

Momentum | = | mass | x | velocity |

SO... mass must increase when velocities get close to c |

So as we put more and more momentum into the body, the velocity ceases to rise without limit; the mass starts to rise instead. Eventually, once the velocity has gotten close to that of light, all the increase is associated with the mass. This effect on a mass, as we repeatedly double its momentum, is shown in the table:

Momentum | Mass | Velocity (in units of 1,000 miles/sec) |

0 | 1 | 0 |

118.6 | 1.186 | 100 |

237.2 =118.6x2 |
1.621 | 146.4 |

474.4 =237.2x2 |
2.740 | 173.2 |

948.8 =474.4x2 |
5.198 | 182.5 |

1897.6 =948.8x2 |
10.251 | 185.1 |

3795 =1897.6x2 |
20.43 | 185.8 |

7590 =3795x2 |
40.82 | 185.9 |

... | ... | ... |

∞ | ∞ | c=186 |

In sum, according to relativity theory, a
force--no matter how big or long acting--cannot accelerate a body through
the speed of light. The closer the body gets to the speed of light, the
greater its mass becomes and the harder it gets to accelerate. The mass
grows without limit.

In 1905, this was not
such a shocking way to view things. It was then known that when electrons
moved close to the speed of light in cathode ray tubes, they got harder
and harder to accelerate, as if they were becoming more massive. Prior to
Einstein, this was explained as a complicated interaction between the
electron and its electromagnetic field. Einstein now just said that the
electron's mass wasn't merely appearing to increase; it was increasing.

For more on how relativity blocks a scheme for using
collisions to boost things through the speed of light, see this account of
the Resolution of Collisions in Classical
and Relativistic Physics.

When a body is accelerated, we add momentum to it and its
mass increases. We also add energy to the body. There turns out to be an
especially simple rule that connects the energy added with the
mass gained:

Add 1 unit of energy --> Add 1/c^{2}
units of mass

Add 2 units of energy --> Add 2/c^{2} units of mass

etc.

More generally:

Add E units of energy --> Add E/c^{2}
units of mass

Turning this around, we can say:

1 unit of mass --> c^{2} units of energy

2 unit of mass --> 2c^{2} units of energy

etc.

More generally:

m units of mass --> mc^{2} units of
energy

This is Einstein's celebrated
equation: E = mc^{2} seen in one application. It turns
out that the relation can be derived in this case with very little more
fuss merely by combining the two relations we saw above for energy,
momentum and force. For the brave: show me.

Einstein's original 1905 demonstration of E
= mc^{2} is only a little more complicated. A simplified version
can be found here
in Section 5 of "Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity and the
Problems in the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies that Led him to it."
pp. 72-102 in *Cambridge Companion to Einstein*, M. Janssen and
C. Lehner, eds., Cambridge University Press.

This famous equation asserts an equivalence of energy and
mass. Whenever a body gains or loses mass or energy it gains or loses a
corresponding amount of energy or mass according to the conversion formula
E = mc^{2}. We have seen this for mass gain under an applied
force. That is, we have seen the result for one particular form of energy,
energy of motion. When a body loses or gains
energy of motion, it loses or gains mass according to E = mc^{2}.

What about other forms of
energy? What about heat energy, chemical energy, electrical
energy, *etc.* Do bodies also lose and gain mass according to E = mc^{2}
when they lose or gain these forms of energy? Yes they do, but it takes a
little bit more argumentation to establish the result.

The argument
that establishes this is a little complicated, so it is
included here for the brave only.

We know that energy of motion has mass. The conservation of momentum
requires that if this holds for one form of energy, it must hold for
all. To see this, imagine that we have some conversion of energy of
motion into another form of energy. For example, we are in an isolated
spaceship with a rapidly spinning flywheel. The flywheel has
considerable energy of motion and thus a corresponding mass. We now use
the motion of the flywheel to turn an electrical generator that then
charges a battery. The battery stores the electrical energy as chemical
energy. The flywheel has lost some energy of motion; the battery has
gained the corresponding amount of chemical energy. The flywheel has
also lost some mass, according to E = mc^{2}. Will the battery
gain the corresponding amount of mass as well?

To see that it must, view the entire process from another spaceship that
sees this system of flywheel and battery moving with uniform speed. The
process will not alter the velocity of the flywheel plus battery system.
Conservation of momentum demands that the total momentum of the flywheel
plus battery remain the same. Therefore, since momentum = mass x
velocity, the total mass of the system must stay the same. But that can
only happen if the mass lost by the flywheel reappears as mass in the
battery and it does so exactly in accord with E = mc^{2}. The
example can be repeated with a conversion of energy of motion to any
other type of energy.

Einstein's 1905 demonstration mentioned above is distinctive in that it
automatically shows that any form of matter conforms with E = mc^{2}
if it is possible for the matter to emit radiation.

Put most briefly, Einstein's equation says that energy and mass are really just two different names for the same thing. They rise and fall together because they are at heart the same thing. We like to call that thing mass when it is in hard, lumpy forms like bricks. We prefer to call it energy when it is in the form of radiation. But the one is just a form of the other.

Here's a simple analogy.
Think about the stuff we call H_{2}O. When it is solid, we call it
ice. When it is liquid, we call it water. When it is vaporized, we call it
steam. But it is always the same stuff.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nuclear_fission.svg |
What is most important for practical purposes is
that the conversion factor c^{2} is a
huge number. That means that a small amount of mass under
conversion yields a huge amount of energy. This is the principle
behind nuclear weapons and nuclear power.In a nuclear fission reaction, a Uranium atom nucleus "fissions"--that is splits--into atomic nuclei of smaller size and other particles such as neutrons. It turns out that the total mass of these decay products is just slightly less than the mass of the Uranium nucleus we started with. This mass defect is around a tenth of one percent of the mass. This missing mass has been converted into energy. Because c ^{2}
is so large, the result of converting even a small part of the mass
into another form is the release of a huge amount of energy. But
because each Uranium nucleus is so very small, the energy released
when one nucleus splits is still small. |

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nagasakibomb.jpg |
Now things get interesting. What triggers a
Uranium atom nucleus to fission is an impact by a neutron. When the
nucleus splits, it releases more neutrons, such as the two or three
in the reactions shown. These neutrons can then initiate the fission
of further Uranium nuclei; and the resulting neutrons initiate the
fission of still further Uranium nuclei. If nothing restricts this
process, we have an uncontrolled chain
reaction that releases a huge amount of energy. That is an
atom bomb. |
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nuclear_fission.svg |

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fat_man.jpg

If, however, we introduce moderators that absorb the neutrons, we can slow down the chain reaction so that we have a controlled release of heat. That heat can be used to do useful things like boil water to make steam to drive electric generators. Then we have a nuclear power plant.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cooling_towers_of_Dukovany_Nuclear_Power_Station.jpg

One gram of matter, about 20 drops of water, if it were fully converted into electrical energy, would be 25,000,000 kilowatt hours of electrical energy. That is enough energy to power a 100 watt light bulb for 250,000,000 hours or 28,500 years. Recorded history extends only about 12,000 years.

At 5 cents a kilowatt hour, it would cost $1,250,000 if purchased from a utility company. The energy of that same gram, if released in an explosion, would be equivalent to 21,000 tons of TNT.

Image:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gluehlampe_01_KMJ.png

In 1905, Einstein did not expect this sort of application of his result,
which then seemed to be purely of theoretical interest.

Click here.

- The notions of energy, momentum and force and how they are related.
- The conservation of energy and momentum and how to apply them.
- How greater than c speed is achieved in classical physics and why these methods fail in relativity theory.
- What happens to the mass of a body as c is approached.
- What E=mc
^{2}says and how it is applied.

Copyright John D. Norton. January 2001, September 2002. July 2006, January 11, September 23, 2008, January 12, 2012; January 22, May 8, 2015. January 21, 2022.