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Smith Lecturer Discusses Einstein--Relatively...


Clifford Will giving Smith Lecture
Clifford Will presented the Smith Lecture in the College Union 900 Room on Thursday, November 9.

November 14, 2000
Contact: Bill Giduz 704/894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu

by Matt Garfield '04

He was one of the greatest thinkers in history, and although he has been dead more than 40 years, interest in the life and work of Albert Einstein is still very high. Time Magazine went so far as to recently name him as its "Person of the Century."

Einstein's renown was confirmed again as more than 300 Davidson students, faculty, and community members packed the 900 Room of the College Union to learn about the great scientist from Clifford Will, author of the 1986 book Was Einstein Right?

Will, chair of the physics department and member of the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences at Washington University, was speaking as the college's Smith Lecturer. His book on Einstein, one of more than 160 publications he has produced, won the 1987 American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award, and was selected one of the 200 best books for 1986 by the New York Times Book Review.

Will called Einstein's oft-debated theory of relativity "one of the most remarkable theories of our time," and discussed its applications in daily life.

He began the talk by explaining the history of relativity. "In the 1920s, there was a prevailing notion that relativity was beyond the understanding of man," he said.

But due to Einstein's research, "Beginning in the 1960s, there was a dramatic renaissance of the theory. It's now a central part of the physicist's enterprise."

Although Einstein died in 1955, Will noted three reasons why his work has achieved its greatest fame since his death. He said the new breed of theorists prefer observable quantities over abstract formulas emerged. Also, the discovery of cosmic phenomena such as quasars, pulsars, black holes, and gravitational lenses, and the explosion of high-precision technology, including the space program and the laser, have played a role in the emergence of the theory.

So was Einstein right? Was his theory correct?

"I won't answer the question for you," said Will. "I'll let you draw your own conclusions."

The Smith Lectureship was established by the Smith family in 1985 to honor Henry Louis Smith, President of Davidson College from 1901-1912. The lecture series brings to campus distinguished scholars in the sciences.

Audience members had a chance to talk with Will more informally following the talk at a reception in Chambers Gallery.

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