Einstein’s Universe

I’ve just started teaching about special relativity and for some reason I suddenly remembered this blast from the past (in 1979) which I saw when I was still at School. It is now available in fully remastered form on YouTube. It’s a feature-length film (2 hours long) but I think it’s worth sharing in its entirety. Here is the description from YouTube, with a few additions:

Based on Nigel Calder’s book Einstein’s Universe, this fascinating and rare film going by the same title has been re-mastered and digitally enhanced to bring Einstein fans a priceless experience. Narrated by the charismatic Peter Ustinov and hosted by Nigel Calder, the film was first broadcast on the centenary of Albert Einstein’s Birth; March 14th, 1979. Ustinov takes the viewer on a wonderful experience through the McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas-Austin where he is thoroughly enlightened on the great physicist’s theories, especially General Relativity, by a renowned team of scientists including Dennis Sciama, Roger Penrose, John Wheeler, Wallace Sergeant, Irwin Shapiro, Sidney Drell, and Ken Brecher.

Included in Ustinov’s experience at the McDonald Observatory are experiments to help understand gravity, warped space, how light responds to gravity, the “Doppler effect” and how radio waves, as used in police radar, are an unbeatable way of measuring speed. From these simpler experiments much larger concepts are drawn, such as the discovery of a Binary Pulsar, the nature of black holes and how they are created, and the ultimate theory of how the universe was formed. Other demonstrations measure the speed of light, how time passes more slowly for people traveling in an airplane, the incredible accuracy of the Atomic Clock in Washington, DC and how time itself would appear to stop at the surface of a black hole. The conclusion of the program portrays Einstein as a great humanitarian. Although known as the “father of the Atomic Bomb”, his greatest concern was for the potentially devastating effects splitting the atom could have on the future of mankind. His famous letter to President Franklin Roosevelt warned that although the splitting of the atom to detonate an atomic bomb could be used to end World War II, it could also potentially be used for far more deadly ends.

It’s a great chance to see and hear some of the greats of physics as they were over forty years ago, some of whom make remarkably prescient comments about the future (now our present) including about gravitational waves!

10 Responses to “Einstein’s Universe”

  1. Phillip Helbig Says:

    I remember watching this when it was new. Interestingly, GR is covered before SR; usually it is the other way around. (Of course, which event happens first is not well defined due to the relativity of simultaneity.)

    Calder had a similar book/television show on particle physics called The Key to the Universe. At one time he was one of my favourite authors: Asimov, Clarke, Gamow, Sagan, Moore, Calder, Nicholson.

  2. Phillip Helbig Says:

    Did you intend a link to the video?

  3. John Stachel: Einstein’s constant speed of light “seems to be nonsense”:

    “But this seems to be nonsense. How can it happen that the speed of light relative to an observer cannot be increased or decreased if that observer moves towards or away from a light beam? Einstein states that he wrestled with this problem over a lengthy period of time, to the point of despair.” http://www.aip.org/history/exhibits/einstein/essay-einstein-relativity.htm

    Einstein’s constancy of the speed of light is OBVIOUS NONSENSE. In Doppler https://youtube.com/watch?v=bg7O4rtlwEE the frequency increases for the moving observer BECAUSE the speed of the light pulses relative to him increases proportionally. No other reason exists.

    • telescoper Says:


      • Banesh Hoffmann, Einstein’s collaborator, admits that, originally (“without recourse to contracting lengths, local time, or Lorentz transformations”), the Michelson-Morley experiment directly proved Newton’s variable speed of light and disproved the constant speed of light:

        “Moreover, if light consists of particles, as Einstein had suggested in his paper submitted just thirteen weeks before this one, the second principle seems absurd: A stone thrown from a speeding train can do far more damage than one thrown from a train at rest; the speed of the particle is not independent of the motion of the object emitting it. And if we take light to consist of particles and assume that these particles obey Newton’s laws, they will conform to Newtonian relativity and thus automatically account for the null result of the Michelson-Morley experiment without recourse to contracting lengths, local time, or Lorentz transformations. Yet, as we have seen, Einstein resisted the temptation to account for the null result in terms of particles of light and simple, familiar Newtonian ideas, and introduced as his second postulate something that was more or less obvious when thought of in terms of waves in an ether.” Banesh Hoffmann, Relativity and Its Roots, p.92 https://www.amazon.com/Relativity-Its-Roots-Banesh-Hoffmann/dp/0486406768

  4. Anders Ehrnberg Says:

    Leo Szilard wrote the letter.

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