Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month for March 2004

This month's fungus honors Albert Einstein's birthday-- but which one should we choose???

by Tom Volk and Adam C. Gusse

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Albert EinsteinAlbert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879 in Ulm, Germany. For those of you challenged in math, that's 125 years ago this month. Albert Einstein is, of course, famous for his theories of relativity and many other advances in Physics, if you can include such astonishments as shattering Newtonian physics in the category of "advances". He was even humble enough to apologize to Newton for this "dastardly deed" when constructing his autobiographical notes. We don't have any evidence that Einstein cared anything for fungi, but he probably did know a thing or two about mushroom clouds. We decided to honor this great scholar and human being on his birthday. It will be fitting to tell you first a little about his life and accomplishments.

Despite nearly failing mathematics in grade school, Albert earned his doctorate degree in Physics and Mathematics in 1905; a year that proved to be most monumental in the minds of intensive thinkers throughout the world (often referred to as "Annus Mirabilis," or the Miracle Year). It was early in 1905, when Einstein was a lowly patent examiner at the ripe old age of 26 in Bern, Switzerland, that he first dabbled in relativity, and theorized that space and time are not constant, but rather relative to your speed (leading to Special Relativity). By March 1905 he dawned the idea of light as photons in the Quantum Theory of Light, followed quickly in April with unleashing proof of minute particles we know as atoms. Then by the end of the year, after admitting that his first theory was "special," Albert defined the energy content of a body as equal to the mass of that body times the speed of light (E=mc2). He even went as far as foiling the imagination of the daydreamer by answering that undying question, "Why is the sky blue?" in 1910.

If you throw in spawning cosmology and modern string theory it's no wonder Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. According to the Nobel Prize website, Einstein won "for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect," but if you ask us, their reasoning fell a few Tabernacles short of a full choir in summing up this genius. This is especially true if you chalk up, the fourth state of matter (after gas, liquid, and solid) called the Bose-Einstein condensate, which was predicted by Einstein, but not created and discovered until 1995. How often does someone come away with something as fundamental as that?

In 1933 Einstein renounced his German citizenship on political grounds and immigrated to America to become Professor of Theoretical Physics at Princeton, where he became a U.S. citizen in 1940. After World War II, he was offered the presidency of the newly created state of Israel, which he unfortunately declined; otherwise whose knows what the current situation in Israel would be like. One thing the world can be sure of though is that Physics classes are immensely more confusing because this man walked the Earth.

According to the Nobel prize website:
"At the start of his scientific work, Einstein realized the inadequacies of Newtonian mechanics and his theory of special relativity [1905] stemmed from an attempt to reconcile the laws of mechanics with the laws of the electromagnetic field." His work was the first merger of mechanics and quantum theory. In 1916 he published his theory of general relativity. Einstein later explained relativity:

"When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, you think it's only a minute. But when you sit on a hot stove for a minute, you think it's two hours. That's relativity."

Einstein said many other interesting things before he died in 1955.

There's actually a famous bluegrass song called "Einstein was a genius." The best version of it we found online is at this page. It's a fun song. It's not surprising that it's a bluegrass song, because Einstein loved to play the fiddle and dance around.

Looking at the Einstein calendar in the office, we decided to honor a very interesting man on the anniversary of his birth. The problem is, which fungus to choose for this occasion?

There were some obvious choices: