A WEEK WITH FEYNMAN AND EINSTEIN ------------------------------ John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc www.nyskies.org email@example.com 2005 May 16
[This atricle was written before the establishment of the NYSkies website. It has minor editing, mostly to clean up typos]
Introduction ---------- The month of May 2005 is a crest of celebrations during the year for both Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman all over New York City. In the week of May 9th thru the 13th, EVERY DAY there was some major Einstein or Feynman event in the City! Of these I attended three, on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. busyness kept me from the Monday and Friday shows. All the events were FREE, except for Thursday's, which cost $15. As I tell below, that was a very well spent $15. Naturally, I handed out NYC Events and NYSkies flyers at all three events. With diverse audiences, only certain attendees had a specific astronomy bent. We may see a few more folk on the discussion group and the Seminar?
Tuesday 10 May ------------ Rockefeller University hosted Einstein Fest 2005, a colloquium in its Caspary Auditorium. It consisted of five feature lectures about the Einstein himself or his work. The day was breezy and sunny, inducing me to walk to the campus, on the East River north of 59th St bridge, from the BMT's Lexington Av station. The festivities started at 1 PM with an audience of some 200 academics, friends, and, oh yes, several NYSkiers. The speakers were top-rank figures in science: Dr John Rigden, Washington University at St Louis (Missouri), 'Einstein 1905, the standard of greatness' Dr David Greenberger, City University of New York, 'Appreciating Einstein's contribution to quantum theory' Dr Albert Libchaber, Rockefeller University, 'Brownian motion, Einstein, Perrin and molecular motors' Dr William Carithers, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 'A voyage through dark energy' Dr Paul Steinhardt, Princeton University, 'Einstein, time and the future of the universe' The talks divided into two neat groups. The first three were nonastronomy for covering historical and regular physics. The final two were hard astronomy and cosmology. Between these two groups was a lively animated recess fueled by large tasty cookies and a wide choice of sodas. I can not in this brief summary recount the talks in detail. I can note that many of us think of Einstein as some 'miracle man' who was unknown in science until he issued his theory of special relativity in 1905. He was in fact an accomplished physicist, who happened by circumstance to fall short of an academic career after his college graduation. He wrote good papers on various topics in physics since 1900. In 1905 he published three major works, one on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, and, ta-TAH, special relativity. He eventually earned the Nobel Prize for the photoelectric effect, not, as some surmise, for relativity. The three were seminal works in quantum physics, atomic physics, and relativistic physics. They showed the existence of quanta (or photons), atoms, and spacetime. Until these articles, physicists debated the reality of quanta and atoms. They were handy mathematical constructs that explained assorted experiments, but were they actual entities? Einstein showed they were. It is commonly noted that Einstein did not like quantum physics. He didn't. What troubled Einstein was that there was no underlying unifying principle for the discipline. Oh, the formulae and rules worked, but why? The last two talks were reviews of cosmology, derived from Einstein's general relativity. According to Einstein, there could be a 'pressure' or 'energy density' in the total absence of mass. He played with this idea for a while, based on the imperfect global description of the universe in the 1910s, He dropped the concept when Hubble and Humason demonstrated the expansion of space. Since space already was expanding, there was no need for the pressure of space. Einstein called it his greatest blunder. With the discovery that the cosmic outswell seems to be faster than that induced by a pure Hubble expansion, the notion of a vacuum energy density revived. We call it 'dark energy' as a jargon term. The prospect that both dark matter and dark energy may be phantoms from a universe 'outside' of ours is also alive now. The cosmic microwave radiation may be the 'seam' between us and other cosmoses. In them may be dimensions which intrude into ours as detached gravity in 'dark matter' and detached pressure in 'dark energy'. The colloquium let out at about 6 PM. I walked a couple delegates toward the subway in 63rd St. They were also interested in engineering. I steered them, I didn't get their names, to check out the cable-stayed bridges. These are the only ones in New York City.. They are small , built for foot traffic. The scientists were impressed, but only for a few moments, They then continued in 63rd to the subway. I lingered awhile to explore the structures. The one crosses 63rd St to connect two parts of the Rockefeller campus. The other spans the FDR Drive for access to the waterfront walk.
Wednesday 11 May -------------- This was my trip to Tannu Tuva. Well, to Far Rockaway, which is about 90% of the way to Tannu Tuva, so I wasn't that far short. I was there for the dedication of the new Feynman postage stamp at the Far Rockaway post office, near where Feynman grew up. The day was partly sunny with a breeze from the nearby Atlantic Ocean. For a small nabe, the post office is a handsome edifice with a rotunda and ceremonial stairs. The service hall was spacious enough to maintain regular operations and hold the stamp celebration. At one end were arrayed folding chairs, a podium, large poster of the stamp, and table of refreshments. About sixty folk turned out for the show. The show began at 10 AM with a bongo concert. Feynman was a bongo player in high school and kept up the sport all thru his life. Postal officials and local politicians gave speeches. Feynman's family and neighbors and classmates gave remembrances. The stamp was unveiled, altho it actually issued on May 4th in New Haven as part of a set of four American scientists. The highlight presentation was by Norman Parker, an actor who was done up as Richard Feynman. He gave a short autobiography and related a few funny episodes in his life. No one could keep a straight face. We then walked to Comaga Av and Mott Av, a block south of the post office, for a brief and happy street renaming. Comaga Av is now Richard Feynman Way. The family posed for photos under the new street sign. Back at the post office, the first-day covers and cachets were released to the crowd. Within minutes, all were gone! The cover had the Feynman stamp with the cancellation citing the other scientists: Gibbs, McClintock, Neumann. The cahcet bore a cancellation patterned after a Feynman diagram! I delighted some of the audience by explaining it, the interaction of an electron and positron via an intermediate photon. We got an unexpected bonus! For all who showed up, there were free copies of two major Feynman books! I now have 'Perfectly reasonable deviations from the beaten path' and 'What do you care what other people think?'. This dedication service wrapped up with eats, a thick sweet rich birthday cake and a variety of juices.
Thursday 12 May ------------- I never heard of the Rubin Museum of Art until a correspondent gave me the Feynman item for it in the May 2005 NYC Events. It's on 17th St between 6th and 7th Av, carved out of a factory loft. It has cultural shows in its cellar cabaret, but this night at 7 PM, it featured the movie 'Genghis blues'. The seats were large, movable, comfortable. I could rest on a stable cocktail table. From the first floor cafe' some of the audience brought down tasty sandwiches or cakes. Tickets were $15, which I at first thought was a bit much for a film showing. It was a lot more than just a film. The show opened with a bongo concert, like the one in Far Rockaway, but in a proper theater surrounds. The sound was fuller and richer here. Mr Parker ambled on stage, made up as Feynman, to give pretty much the same skit as in Far Rockaway. He probably never noticed that a few of us saw him the day before. Here he had a regular podium and stage chair, which he alternated between as he chatted. The laughter was far lighter, almost a countable number of us. I looked around. There were at most fifteen in the audience! We took a recess to tank up at the cafe'. I passed for lack of hunger to chat with the others around me. One woman went to the same two previous events as I did. I missed noticing her. It turns out she's a science buff and has other similar friends. I gave her extra NYC Events and NYSkies flyers for them. We settled down for the movie. This was a professionally done documentary of Feynman's trip to Tannu Tuva. Tannu Tuva is now a state within Russia, but was a separate country for a couple years in the 1920s. Its exotic name and location next to Outer Mongolia fascinated Feynman to the point of obsession. He eventually got the Soviet Union to let him visit. He sure had the time of his life! In spite of the scarcity of tourist services, this place being off limits for both foreign and Russian travelers, he was well cared for by the natives. They never saw a real American. Feynman was for them a celebrity. By and by Richard learned to sing in Tuva language, hunt, kill sheep, cook, wear native clothes. Some of the scenes were so hilarious, we broke out laughing! The movie brought memories of my own adventures in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, when Cold War fever pressed down on me every where I went, or tried to go. The movie let out with all of us in a festive mood, as if we were briefed for our own trip to Tannu Tuva.