Matter & Energy

Matter is composed of atoms or groups of atoms called molecules. The arrangement of particles in a material depends on the physical state of the substance. In a solid, particles form a compact structure that resists flow. Particles in a liquid have more energy than those in a solid. They can flow past one another, but they remain close. Particles in a gas have the most energy. They move rapidly and are separated from one another by relatively large distances.


Relativity, theory, developed in the early 20th century, which originally attempted to account for certain anomalies in the concept of relative motion, but which in its ramifications has developed into one of the most important basic concepts in physical science (see Physics). The theory of relativity, developed primarily by German American physicist Albert Einstein, is the basis for later demonstration by physicists of the essential unity of matter and energy, of space and time, and of the forces of gravity and acceleration (see Acceleration; Energy; Gravitation).


Physical laws generally accepted by scientists before the development of the theory of relativity, now called classical laws, were based on the principles of mechanics enunciated late in the 17th century by the English mathematician and physicist Isaac Newton. Newtonian mechanics and relativistic mechanics differ in fundamental assumptions and mathematical development, but in most cases do not differ appreciably in net results.; the behavior of a billiard ball when struck by another billiard ball, for example, may be predicted by mathematical calculations based on either type of mechanics and produce approximately identical results. Inasmuch as the classical mathematics is enormously simpler than the relativistic, the former is the preferred basis for such a calculation. In cases of high speeds, however, assuming that one of the billiard balls was moving at a speed approaching that of light, the two theories would predict entirely different types of behavior, and scientists today are quite certain that the relativistic predictions would be verified and the classical predictions would be proved incorrect.


In 1905, Einstein published the first of two important papers on the theory of relativity, in which he dismissed the problem of absolute motion by denying its existence. According to Einstein, no particular object in the universe is suitable as an absolute frame of reference that is at rest with respect to space. Any object (such as the center of the solar system) is a suitable frame of reference, and the motion of any object can be referred to that frame. Thus, it is equally correct to say that a train moves past the station, or that the station moves past the train. This example is not as unreasonable as it seems at first sight, for the station is also moving, due to the motion of the earth on its axis and its revolution around the sun. All motion is relative, according to Einstein. None of Einstein's basic assumptions was revolutionary.


In 1915 Einstein developed the general theory of relativity in which he considered objects accelerated with respect to one another. He developed this theory to explain apparent conflicts between the laws of relativity and the law of gravity. To resolve these conflicts he developed an entirely new approach to the concept of gravity, based on the principle of equivalence.

The principle of equivalence holds that forces produced by gravity are in every way equivalent to forces produced by acceleration, so that it is theoretically impossible to distinguish between gravitational and accelerational forces by experiment. In the theory of special relativity, Einstein had stated that a person in a closed car rolling on an absolutely smooth railroad track could not determine by any conceivable experiment whether he was at rest or in uniform motion. In general relativity he stated that if the car were speeded up or slowed down or driven around a curve, the occupant could not tell whether the forces so produced were due to gravitation or whether they were acceleration forces brought into play by pressure on the accelerator or on the brake or by turning the car sharply to the right or left.

Acceleration is defined as the rate of change of velocity. According to Einstein's theory, Newton's law of gravitation is an unnecessary hypothesis; Einstein attributes all forces, both gravitational and those associated with acceleration, to the effects of acceleration. Thus, when the rocket is standing still on the surface of the earth, it is attracted toward the center of the earth. Einstein states that this phenomenon of attraction is attributable to an acceleration of the rocket. In three-dimensional space, the rocket is stationary and therefore is not accelerated; but in four-dimensional space-time, the rocket is in motion along its world line. According to Einstein, the world line is curved, because of the curvature of the continuum in the neighborhood of the earth.

Thus, Newton's hypothesis that every object attracts every other object in direct proportion to its mass is replaced by the relativistic hypothesis that the continuum is curved in the neighborhood of massive objects. Einstein's law of gravity states simply that the world line of every object is a geodesic in the continuum. A geodesic is the shortest distance between two points, but in curved space it is not generally a straight line. In the same way, geodesics on the surface of the earth are great circles, which are not straight lines on any ordinary map. See Geometry; Navigation.