Archive for Nigel Calder

Einstein’s Universe

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on December 7, 2020 by telescoper

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!