- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A hundred years ago, Albert Einstein formulated E=mc2, his revolutionary equation that forever changed the way scientists thought of the connections between mass and energy.

In its own tribute, the PBS science program “Nova” celebrates the story behind the equation with a two-hour special that will air Oct. 11. However, amateur physicists will find a Web site already in place touting the show. It does a fantastic job of explaining Einstein’s discovery.

Einstein’s Big Idea

Site address: www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ einstein/

Creator: WGBH and “Nova,” based in Boston, produced the site for PBS.

Creator quotable: “We created this site as a companion to the ‘Nova’ broadcast ‘Einstein’s Big Idea,’ a biography of the equation E=mc2. Because the equation is so difficult to understand and because many people will visit the site without ever having seen the broadcast, our intention was to explain the equation through many different content approaches — audio, articles, interviews, interactives — and different lenses, both historical and contemporary,” says Lauren Aguirre, executive editor for the “Nova” Web site.

Word from the Webwise: I finally have gotten a layman’s handle on the basics of Einstein’s theory of relativity through this cleanly designed site, which uses 14 modules to dissect his revolutionary findings.

An overwhelming amount of easy-to-understand information is presented, much of it culled from an older cyber-stop that supplemented the 8-year-old “Nova” program “Einstein Revealed.”

Nonetheless, new visitors will appreciate the scope of the primarily text-based pages, which tap the writing talents of physicists, authors and filmmakers.

Although all of the material will be digested greedily by the science lover, I found a trio of features essential to the understanding of what the heck Einstein was writing and talking about.

First, 10 top physicists, including a pair of Nobel Prize winners, describe the meaning of the famous equation to normal folk in sound bites averaging two minutes each. (Text versions of the clips as well as podcasts also are available.)

Next, the site condenses historian David Bodanis’ best-seller “E = mc2: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation” into a five-page resource that sheds light on each part of the equation by offering background on discoveries and researchers involved.

Finally, the editor in chief of “Nova” online, Peter Tyson, explains the significance of the equation in terms of technological advances made in the modern world. The module even lets visitors hear Einstein briefly explain his discovery.

Ease of use: Visitors will need the current version of the Flash plug-in for the interactives and either QuickTime, RealPlayer or Windows Media player for watching video. The site is compatible with older browsers such as Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer 4.0 and above but is best viewed in Internet Explorer 6, Netscape 7.x or Firefox for Windows (98 and later), and Safari 1.2.x, Netscape 7.x, Firefox or Internet Explorer 5.2.x for Macintosh (OS X).

Don’t miss: A selection of multimedia interactives pepper the site, and my favorites include a quiz that reveals how a paper clip theoretically has as much energy as an atomic bomb, a space-traveling game to help explain time dilation, and an animation of Einstein in an elevator (used to demonstrate how gravity and acceleration are the same).

Elements on the horizon: A guide for public librarians across the country will be added soon and, following the broadcast, the program transcript will be made available.

Comprehension level: According to Miss Aguirre, middle school students through adults will most appreciate the content.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the science or technology fan? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@ washington times.com).

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