Einstein – Pure Scientist or Inventor?
Einstein is perhaps one of the most influential scientists of the past 150 years, but he was not primarily an inventor. Many of his discoveries, however, have paved the way for further research leading to other inventions, and he is often credited with at least a part in the following five important discoveries and developments.
Why the Sky Is Blue
Einstein discovered why the sky can appear blue in colour due to the scattering of light from the sun. He explained that it is caused by an electromagnetic field of light affecting the molecules with which it comes into contact. As the shorter wavelengths are blue, these are scattered most strongly, giving the sky its characteristically blue colour to the eye. A more detailed explanation of this phenomenon is available from NASA.
An English botanist, Robert Brown, had observed seemingly inexplicable movements in grains of pollen suspended in water. Since this observation in 1827, there had been no explanation until Einstein claimed that the movements were due to thermal molecular motions.
The Atomic Bomb
Einstein did not invent the atomic bomb, but his famous equation e=mc2 played a very important part in its development. This is confirmed and explained in a Guardian article. Initially, Einstein was in favour of the development of the bomb and wrote to Roosevelt to encourage him to build it before the Germans were able to, although he later condemned its use at Hiroshima.
Another invention that owed a lot to Einstein was television. His theory suggests that light is made up of individual packets of energy known as photons or quanta which have properties of both particles and waves. Einstein also described the photoelectric effect as some solids emitting electrons when light strikes them. The photoelectric cell that resulted from Einstein’s work made many inventions possible and resulted in the development of the motion pictures and television that we take for granted today.
Einstein’s refrigerator, which he invented in collaboration with a former student, Leo Szilard, is his only actual invention. This refrigerator was patented on November 11th 1930 in the United States. Einstein and Szilard were prompted to look for a safer refrigerator following an accident that occurred due to a seal breaking on a conventional refrigerator. Unlike commercial refrigeration today, the Einstein-Szilard refrigerator has no moving parts and works by absorption. It needs only heat from a small gas burner to operate, and does not rely on electricity, making it convenient for use where there is no electricity supply, such as for outdoor activities or in less developed countries. The Swedish company Electrolux bought up the patents in order to protect its refrigeration technology. This type of technology can still be seen today in commercial refrigeration by fridgefreezerdirect.co.uk, for example.
Although Einstein was not primarily an inventor, his research has led to many developments and inventions. Interestingly, the theory behind Einstein’s refrigerator has been revisited more recently by scientists hoping to produce a greener alternative to today’s refrigerators.