Physics Professor Plans to Take Students on a Walk in Einstein’s Footsteps

Posted: February 23, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jennifer Mitchell

In March 1905, Albert Einstein published a paper that changed the way physicists understood the structure of light and later earned him the Nobel Prize. In May and June of that same year, he published two more papers on the theory of Brownian motion and relativity, which prompted scientists to call 1905 Einstein’s “miracle year.” As part of the centennial celebration of Einstein’s discoveries, 2005 has been named the World Year of Physics by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics.

Robert Ehrlich
Robert Ehrlich
Photo by Evan Cantwell

This summer, Mason physics professor Robert Ehrlich plans to lead a group of students on a study tour called “Einstein’s Footsteps” through Germany and Switzerland. The trip runs from July 2 to July 16 and is sponsored by Mason’s Center for Global Education (CGE). Acting director Tanith Fowler Corsi notes that this is CGE’s only science study tour this summer.

“Normally, one associates study-abroad trips with subjects like history, art, and politics, but for a change, it seemed very appropriate to do one in science,” says Ehrlich. And very appropriate that he should be the one to organize such a trip. Ehrlich has published 20 books on physics-related subjects, many of which are geared toward lay readers and children, including Turning the World Inside Out and 174 Other Simple Physics Demonstrations and its follow-up, Why Toast Lands Jelly Side Down.

Ehrlich, who received a College of Arts and Sciences Award for Scholarship in 2002, has also created numerous teaching materials, including a patented device for doing mechanics experiments called the Ehrlich Vibration Table. He has devoted much of his research to studying particle physics and the effects of nuclear weapons, while continuing to find new and innovative ways to help students explore the world of physics.

Ehrlich will take students to several sites that featured prominently in Einstein’s life and work, as well as major labs that continue research based on his theories. On the first day of the trip, the group will travel from Berlin to Potsdam to visit Einsteinturm, a solar observatory tower built in the early 1920s to test Einstein’s theory. Students will also visit the Einstein Forum, an interdisciplinary research facility constructed near Einstein’s summer home, and the Max Planck Institute for informatics research.

Other stops will feature an exhibition in Berlin titled “Albert Einstein-Engineer of the Universe” and a visit to Einstein’s childhood home and elementary school in Munich. The tour was planned around the European Physical Society conference scheduled for July 11 in Bern, Switzerland, and participants will have the opportunity to attend the opening sessions there. The tour ends in Geneva, with a visit to CERN, the premier research facility for advanced research in particle physics.

The tour is open to anyone over the age of 18, and students can earn three credits in physics through active participation in discussions each morning.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I thought would be fun to put together,” says Ehrlich. “Oh, and despite the trip’s cute name, all intercity-travel will be via train, rather than hiking!”

For more information, see Ehrlich’s web site.

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