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Published on Oct 19, 2010
John W. Moffat was a poor student of math and science. That is, until he read Einstein's famous paper on general relativity. Realizing instantly that he had an unusual and unexplained aptitude for understanding the complex physics described in the paper, Moffat wrote a letter to Einstein that would change the course of his life.
Einstein replied to Moffat and they exchanged a series of letters in which they discussed the theory of general relativity and Einstein's current work on unified field theory. Moffat met with Einstein's longtime colleague, the legendary Niels Bohr, at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. Astonished by the young man's self-taught knowledge of theoretical physics, Bohr directed Moffat to Britain, where, after interviews with influential physicists including Erwin Schrödinger, he was enrolled in the graduate physics program at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1958, Moffat was the first student in the College's more than 400-year history to earn a physics PhD without a prior undergraduate degree.
Moffat and Einstein did not continue their correspondence, as the great man died shortly after Moffat began his studies. However, Moffat continued, over the next fifty years, to modify and expand on Einstein's theory of gravity.
EINSTEIN WROTE BACK tells the story of Moffat's unusual entry into the world of academia and documents his career at the frontlines of twentieth-century physics as he worked and associated with some of the greatest minds in scientific history, including Niels Bohr, Fred Hoyle, Wolfgang Pauli, Paul Dirac, Erwin Schrödinger, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Abdus Salam, among others.
Taking readers inside the classrooms and minds of these "giants" of modern science, Moffat affectionately exposes the foibles and eccentricities of these great men, as they worked on the revolutionary ideas that, today, are the very foundation of modern physics and cosmology.
Photos courtesy of John and Patricia Moffat.
With thanks to: - Einstein letter: Copyright Albert Einstein Archives, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. - Pleyer-Foto, Zurich, courtesy of Pauli Archive Photos, CERN - Francis Simon, courtesy of AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Francis Simon Collection - Niels Bohr Archive, courtesy of AIP Emilio Segrè Visual - AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection