Einstein in East L.A.: Thoughts on his 136th Birthday

Take a moment of your space-time this month to reflect on this great man and discuss why he matters

By C.J. Salgado, Contributing Writer
Published on LatinoLA: March 17, 2015

Einstein in East L.A.: Thoughts on his 136th Birthday

He's been called the most famous scientist of all time, the smartest man of the 20th century, a civil rights leader, an international pacifist, etc. He is Albert Einstein, renowned theoretical physicist and winner of the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics. Although he is no longer with us, having died in 1955, Saturday, March 14, 2015 marked what would be his 136th birthday. Although, most do not remember the significance of this day or celebrate it, Einstein's contributions impact our lives to this day, from East L.A. to Princeton, N.J.

First of all, why does it matter? Well, because the nature of "matter" is the very thing that Einstein helped us to understand much better, along with "time." Most of us talk about matter and time as if they are separate aspects of our existence. We think, time keeps on ticking no matter what we do, right? Not by Einstein. For example, his special theory of relativity from 1905 predicts that time slows were you to approach the speed of light!

Then, in 1915, one hundred years ago, he published his general theory of relativity, a scientific theory of gravity. Einstein saw matter differently, within "space-time," a sort of "curved" 4th dimension joining matter and time and producing the effects of gravity we ordinarily observe as a force. It is like when you jump into bed, your body forms a depression on the mattress. If you rolled a ball on the bed along your body, it would fall into the depression in the bed as if a "force" were pulling it in, i.e., gravity. Your body (matter) created a depression in the mattress (space) that affects the path (and thus also the time) of the ball traveling around your body from what it would normally follow if the bed were undisturbed by your body.

In a similar manner, general relativity predicts that a massive object in space bends light rays. So far, many experiments over the last century have supported Einstein's theory as being correct. Because of this, we are able to find exoplanets (planets outside of our solar system), search for black holes in deep space, understand peculiarities in the orbit of Mercury, and study why our universe is said to be expanding and accelerating. That may seem too esoteric, but with current efforts by private and public entities seeking to commercialize space travel, colonize Mars, etc. It may be more meaningful to us than we think.

So, on his birthday, fans celebrated in Princeton, N.J., where Einstein lived for two decades while at the Institute for Advanced Study, with "Pi Day," an all-day celebration of Einstein's birthday and "pi," a mathematical constant whose numbers match up with the date 3.1415=3/14/15. It includes an Einstein look-alike contest, and an Einstein historic tour. Who needs more reason to celebrate!

Surprisingly, on the other side of the country in the Los Angeles area where Einstein did spend some time while a visiting professor at Caltech in the early 1930s, no formal celebrations were found, not even at Caltech or local science museums.

However, in East L.A., the impact of Einstein can be seen, if in a more demure way. There, "The Garage," a unique lounge and skate shop, which runs "SK 8 4 Educate," an after-school program that seeks to combine skateboarding with academics for high-risk youth, proudly displays its mural of Einstein on its storefront. Painted by a local artist known as "Doc," it was painted to reflect the program's desire for the kids to aspire to excel in skateboarding and academics, to recognize that science and math are ever-present, even in the motions of a hot-dog skater, and to celebrate the genius of Einstein.

So, take a moment of your space-time this month to reflect on this great man. Discuss why he matters with your kids, friends, and others interested in seeing the light. Our contemporary world of technology is built upon the work of great scientist like Einstein, so it is very relevant that discussion take place in a scientifically literate society.

I know I will because he changed my life forever. But that's' another story

Happy birthday, Einstein.

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