Einstein’s Big Idea NOVA Online Examines the One Hundred-Year History of the World-Famous Equation E=mc2 on Pbs.org

Share Article

Site Features Audio Clips from Ten of the WorldÂ?s Top Physicists, the Debut of NOVA Podcasts, Extensive Materials for Teachers, Educators and Public Libraries, and an Exclusive Video Clip from the Television Program http://www.pbs.org/nova/einstein.

To mark the one-hundredth anniversary of Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2, NOVA has launched a Web site (http://www.pbs.org/nova/einstein) that features exclusive comments from ten of the worlds top physicists. This once-in-a-lifetime gathering of top scientists such as S. James Gates, Jr., Brian Greene, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Nobel Laureate Sheldon Glashow simplify what the equation means to our world today. From smoke detectors to Global Positioning Systems, this impressive group comments on the effect that the equation has in our daily lives and had had on their careers. These comments are also made available for the first time through NOVA podcasts with the remarks of Brian Greene, author and host of the NOVA program, The Elegant Universe. Web surfers and science fans alike can receive these podcasts directly upon their release by subscribing to the NOVA RSS feed at http://www.pbs.org/nova/rss.

NOVA online also details how Einstein grappled with the implications of his revolutionary theory of relativity and came to a startling conclusion: that mass and energy are one, related by the formula E=mc2.

In this, the World Year of Physics, NOVA pays its own tribute through this new Web site and by dramatizing the story behind the equation on Einstein’s Big Idea, a two-hour special airing Tuesday, October 11, 2005, at 8PM ET on PBS (check local listings). Among Einstein’s ideas, E=mc2 is by far the most famous. Yet how many people know what it really means? Based on the best-selling David Bodanis book “E=mc2,” this NOVA docudrama (featuring Aidan McArdle as Einstein and Shirley Henderson as his first wife, Mileva Maric) and Website illuminate this deceptively simple formula by unraveling the story of how it came to be.

Visit NOVA’s Website http://www.pbs.org/nova/einstein to see an exclusive preview of the October 11 program and read an excerpt from the re-released Bodanis book. Additional features include:

Ancestors of E=mc2

Explore each element of Einstein’s equation and discover the scientists who paved the way to Einstein’s breakthrough in this interactive adaptation of E=mc2 by David Bodanis.

The Power of Tiny Things

If you could convert the mass of a paperclip entirely to energy, how big a punch would it pack? In this quiz, discover the mind-boggling answer, and explore other examples -- both fanciful and real -- of what scientists call mass-energy equivalence.

The Legacy of E=mc2

This article investigates the myriad inventions, techniques, and discoveries -- from nuclear power plants to carbon-dating to understanding how stars work -- that owe their existence to E=mc2.

Viewers will also find an excerpt from “Einstein’s Cosmos” by Michio Kaku and many other articles and interactives. Also access a number of lesson plans through the award-winning NOVA Teacher’s Guide and a special library resource kit.

E=mc2 Podcast

Listen online or download the podcast at http://www.pbs.org/nova/einstein/experts.html

The following speakers are already available:

Brian Greene from Columbia University

Janet Conrad from Columbia University

Sheldon Glashow from Boston University

Nima Arkani-Hamed from Harvard University

Alan Guth from Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tim Halpin-Healy from Barnard College and Columbia University

Neil deGrasse Tyson from the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City

Remaining speakers include:

Friday, September 30: Michio Kaku from the City University of New York

Friday, October 7: Lene Hau from Harvard University

Tuesday, October 11: Frank Wilczek from Massachusetts Institute of Technology

On-line materials for teachers:

The NOVA teacher's guide is designed for educators and students in middle and high school classrooms, and will help teachers and students explore each part of the equation E=mc2 as well as the meaning of the equation as a whole. The teacher's guide is available at http://www.pbs.org/nova/einstein, look for the link to the teachers guide on the right hand side of this page.

In "Energy's Invisible World," students explore energy by investigating the nature of fields and forces at different stations in the classroom. Students investigate magnetic, electric, and electromagnetic fields, as well as mechanical, electric, kinetic, potential, and chemical energy transfers.

"Messing with Mass" provides an inquiry into how objects of mass interact during a chemical reaction in a plastic bag and considers how mass is conserved during a chemical reaction. Students make measurements to confirm the conservation of mass in a closed system (quart freezer bag).

In "Squaring Off with Velocity," students investigate the meaning of c2 by measuring the energy applied by an object falling at different velocities. Students drop marbles into flour to investigate the relationship between velocity and energy. Graphing data leads students to understand that E is proportional to velocity squared, not velocity.

The final activity explores the meaning of the equation. In "A Trip to Pluto," students examine how much of different kinds of fuel would be required to make an imaginary trip to Pluto. All energy sources are compared to a hypothetical mass-to-energy propulsion system called a photon drive.

Each lesson plan includes an activity summary and objectives, materials list, activity time allotment, background information, procedure, standards connections, and a resources section. Reproducible student pages and activity answers are also provided.

On-line materials for libraries:

As community resources, public libraries are in a unique position to help people explore Einstein’s famous equation during its centennial celebration. NOVA is offering a free 32-page library guide that contains a range of ready-to-use display and programming resources for libraries large and small. This guide is also be available on-line at http://www.pbs.org/einstein/lrk.html.

The guide’s resources are divided into three sections: displays, handouts and activities, and events. The display section is designed to help librarians launch E=mc2- themed displays with a full-color poster, display sheets, reproducible handouts, and a template for E=mc2 stickers. The handouts and activities section contains information sheets on Einstein, the equation, and notable women physicists, along with three hands-on science activities to help children and young adults explore Einstein’s equation and the scientific process.

The guide also steps out detailed plans for running two library events: a scavenger hunt and a trivia night. The scavenger hunt is designed to help young adults get to know library resources as they look for clues related to E=mc2. The trivia night, involving a science-flavored trivia game hosted by a local scientist, provides a fun and effective way for libraries to reach new audiences and help bridge the gap between the scientific community and the public.

Besides being available on-line, the library guide was distributed in August to 16,000 public libraries and 1,000 after school programs nationwide.

About WGBH and PBS

Now in its thirty-third year of broadcasting, NOVA is produced for PBS by the WGBH Boston Science Unit. The director of the WGBH Boston Science Unit and senior executive producer of NOVA is Paula S. Apsell. Major corporate funding for NOVA is provided by Google. Additional funding is provided by Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public television viewers. Major funding for Einstein’s Big Idea is provided by the National Science Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the United States Department of Energy and American Playhouse. Einstein’s Big Idea will be available on DVD and VHS and can be ordered at, shop.wgbh.org or call WGBH Boston Video at 800-949-8670.

PBS is a private, nonprofit media enterprise that serves the nation’s 349 public noncommercial television stations, reaching nearly 90 million people each week through on-air and online content. Bringing diverse viewpoints to television and the Internet, PBS provides high-quality documentary and dramatic entertainment, and consistently dominates the most prestigious award competitions. PBS is the leading provider of educational materials for K-12 teachers, and offers a broad array of educational services for adult learners. More information about PBS is available at pbs.org, one of the leading dot-org Web sites on the Internet, averaging more than 30 million unique visits and 380 million page views per month in 2004. PBS is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ESI 0407104. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Press contact:

Lisa Cerqueira                         

Senior Publicist, Interactive Marketing        

WGBH Boston                            





© 2005 WGBH Educational Foundation


Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Lisa Cerqueira
Email >