• U.S.

Science: Super-Relativity

2 minute read

This week Albert Einstein announced what might be the most important scientific news in many decades: he had developed a new “Generalized Theory of Gravitation” which attempts to interrelate all known physical phenomena. The full theory, will be published in February by Princeton University Press in the third edition of Einstein’s The Meaning of Relativity. But the heart of the theory is contained in four equations (see cut).

At present, man’s basic knowledge about the physical universe is contained in two independent theories: 1) relativity, which deals with the gravitational fields produced by massive bodies; and 2) the quantum theory, which deals with electromagnetic effects. The two theories touch at many points, but there is no overall theory connecting them.

Since both electromagnetism and gravitation are properties of matter, scientists are sure that they must be connected somehow. Since about 1920, the search for a connection has occupied many theoretical physicists. Einstein himself thought he had found the secret in 1935, but later decided he was on the wrong track. This time he may have succeeded.

No final judgment can be reached until the new theory is checked experimentally. Einstein’s relativity was proved rather simply by actually observing the shift it predicted in the apparent position of stars. Checking his latest theory will be harder. Said Einstein: “Due to mathematical difficulties, I have not yet found a practicable way to confront the results of the theory with experimental evidence.”

If Einstein does establish his new theory, it will be the high point of his career, and another climax in the great scientific revolution which he and a few colleagues started nearly 50 years ago (see THE HALF CENTURY).

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com