Every once in a while in the human society and among seemingly different people, there is a need for a unifying point that will bring them together as one people.
This unifying point could be as a result of a new sense of their greater purpose, or as a response to a common enemy, or it could be due to the influence of a visionary leader.
Examples of such visionary leaders who accomplished important unifications in history were King Menes who unified upper and lower Egypt, Qin Shi Huang who unified China, Charlemagne, the first Christian emperor, who unified Western Europe, Otto von Bismarck who unified Germany, and a whole lot of other historical figures from different cultures across the world.
Surprisingly, I take that this has been the case with seemingly different concepts in physics as it has been with seemingly different people in history, for unity is the same and beautiful wherever and whenever it can be found.
So, just as these historical unifiers are appreciated and celebrated, so also we celebrate and cherish the memory of our unifiers in physics, and we have had quite a number of them, but among them, three stand out as the three greatest unification physicists.
And these three greatest unification physicists in their order of appearance on the world stage are Isaac Newton, Clerk Maxwell, and Albert Einstein. These three individuals showed us a world of unity we never knew existed and it is for this reason we hold them in high esteem.
So, today, I have decided to write this article about these three greatest unification physicists so that we can honour their memory in this great science blog and to once again remind ourselves of their accomplishments and how they changed and revolutionalize physics and the world.
To begin, Isaac Newton was an English physicist and he comes first in the list because he gave us the first historical unification in physics. In the Principia, first published on July 5th, 1687, Newton unified terrestrial and celestial mechanics.
He made us understand that terrestrial motion and celestial motion follow the same set of physical laws. Newton revealed that gravity is what is responsible for the free fall of an apple from an apple tree and also for the motion of the Moon around the Earth.
Before Newton, the motion of celestial bodies was shrouded in mystery and we felt that they were unrelated to terrestrial motion, and even if we didn’t, we could not show the mathematical relationship between the two.
But Newton came along and revealed to us the three physical laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation, and till today, these laws still serve as the cornerstone laws of physics.
So, today, we remember Newton, one of the greatest unification physicists, who his Principia culminated the first scientific revolution. He brought together all the great scientific ideas of his time and those from his predecessors, like Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, and unified them under one mechanics.
Newton gave us the inverse square law which represents the mathematical relationship between interacting celestial bodies by gravity. Newton showed us how gravity was responsible for lunar motion, and the rise and the fall of tides.
He took Galileo’s reliance on mathematics and rigorous practical methods to a whole new level. And today, we remember him for his three physical laws of motion which for the first time in history gave us the first scientific basis to judge the universe as a physical place.
Newton’s unification was so revolutionary that even until modern physics and with the revolutions of relativity and quantum mechanics physicists were still within the grip of Newton’s laws and methods.
This was because he defined most of the central concepts of physics such as space, time, mass, force, momentum, velocity, etc. And it is as a result of this feat that his Principia has been considered as the greatest masterpiece of science.
Newton was indeed a great spirit. We cannot possibly imagine physics without him at the center. Newton came at a time when the geocentric model of the universe was been challenged by the Copernicus heliocentric model.
But it took Newton to present the inverse square law as the mathematical basis of the heliocentric model of the universe, and with this, Newton simply explained the motion and mysteries of the Solar System that the geocentric model couldn’t.
I specially celebrate Newton’s unification because it was what finally laid to rest any argument against the Sun being the center of our Solar System. This marked our first scientific and cosmic journey towards the Sun.
And today, the Sun, beyond its physical essence, has taken its deeper and complete mystical meaning in the new science. It is now at the center of all things as not just the emanator of physical light, but as the mystical emanator of knowledge, which is the true light.
So, Newton was a great light who showed us that when we observe motion on the face of the Earth and the motion of the stars in the heavens, we are not really looking at two different kinds of motions as they are governed by the same set of physical laws.
It is because of this his unification of terrestrial and celestial mechanics that we today celebrate Newton as one of the greatest unifiers of physics. He showed us a whole new world of unity we never knew existed as well as the remaining two physicists I’m about to mention.It is because of this his unification of terrestrial and celestial mechanics that we today celebrate Newton as one of the greatest unifiers of physics.Click To Tweet
Another great unification physicist that came after Isaac Newton was the Scottish physicists, James Clerk Maxwell. Clerk Maxwell came at a time physicists and scientists were contemplating the nature of light.
Earlier, Michael Faraday, an English scientist, had suggested to a group of scientists that light is some sort of electromagnetic wave, some of whom were skeptical about his proposition.
However, one physicist, Clerk Maxwell, picked up this idea and proceeded to give us the first theoretical proof that light is an electromagnetic wave.
The story has it that Maxwell took his theory to an already old Michael Faraday and showed him how he was able to derive the speed of light from his theory.
I believe this must have been one of the happiest moments of Faraday’s life. So, Clerk Maxwell is highly remembered today for his contribution to our understanding of light and for his unification of electricity and magnetism.
So, today, we owe our modern study of electromagnetism to Clerk Maxwell. And his unification was what gave birth to the telecom industry and information age.
With the practical pioneering efforts of James Franck, Gustav Hertz, and Guglielmo Marconi, man was launched into the radio era. We could then send information across the universe by the electromagnetic wave or you could say light.
Thus, both Newton’s and Maxwell’s unifications had immense significance on science and our technological capabilities. Both unifications led to technological revolutions.
Newton unification produced the industrial revolution, and Maxwell’s unification produced the telecommunication revolution.
We are therefore very grateful to these two great scientists who showed us two worlds of unity: one on motion and the other on light.
Now, it then happened that the two worlds of unification could not be unified. That is, Newton’s mechanics could not be unified with Maxwell’s electrodynamics.
The problem was because of the constant speed of light which physicists had believed moved relative to the aether. So, as a result, it was conceived that the speed of light should vary with respect to the aether.
But the Michelson-Morley experiment conducted in 1887 could not find the aether. So, the hard to accept conclusion was that light was an independent wave of some sort and that the aether does not exist.
It was then becoming obvious that a theoretical problem was brewing in physics, and to confront this aether problem, physicists like Poincaré, Lorentz, and Einstein arose to give us the theory of relativity.
In this remarkable theory, it was taken that space contracts and that time dilates due to motion and that it was because of this that the Michelson-Morley experiment could not detect the aether.
Now, this was the position of Poincaré and Lorentz, but Einstein took that space and time contracts and dilates respectively as a result of the constancy of the speed of light.
This is because Albert Einstein had taken light to be an independent wave that is not moving in any aether, and he had proceeded to base his relativity theory on the thesis that the speed of light is constant.
It was his second thesis in what he called special relativity. The first thesis was that the laws of physics are the same for all inertial reference frames.
So, Einstein rejected the classical aether and opted for the independent existence of light and on the ground of this great universal truth resolved the disunity between Newtonian mechanics and Maxwell’s electrodynamics.
In Einstein’s unification, we came to discover a world where the speed of light is a universal constant and space and time are distorted due to motion. Einstein’s unification led to the modification of Newtonian mechanics or what one can call the Galilean transformation to include or incorporate the speed of light.
So, a new mechanics was born, and one of the remarkable results of this mechanics is that mass and energy are interchangeable, which is what is captured by Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2.
We must understand that basically, the crisis between Newton’s unification and Maxwell’s unification was centred around light. Before Maxwell, Newtonian mechanics had informed us about the relativity of all motion, but this did not apply to light as the Michelson-Morley experiment proved.
So, it is either the speed of light is constant or it is not. And if it is, what happens to Newtonian mechanics? So, what Einstein accomplished, as well as Poincaré and Lorentz, was the modification of Newtonian mechanics that would result if the speed of light is a universal constant.
This revolutionary modification of Newtonian mechanics is what we today call relativity. So, Einstein’s unification brought together Newtonian mechanics and Maxwell’s electrodynamics.
We now had a framework where we could discuss the relativity of motion within the context of the constant speed of light. And Einstein’s unification led to the revolution of our energy industry.
Einstein’s unification showed us that there is a huge reservoir of energy within just a small lump of matter. And with the study of radioactivity that came at that time, man was set to harness the fruits of Einstein’s unification which was nuclear energy.
Today, nuclear energy is used to power homes, offices, and industries. And some nations use it to manufacture bombs for defensive and security purposes, even though this has to be strongly discouraged.
So, today, we celebrate Newton, Maxwell, and Einstein as the three greatest unification physicists. Their contributions to physics are immense, and until today and till the end of time, we will forever be grateful to these great spirits.Today, we celebrate Newton, Maxwell, and Einstein as the three greatest unification physicists.Click To Tweet
However, today, physics is in another crisis that is historically more known than any other in physics, and it was precipitated by the revolution or introduction of relativity and quantum mechanics.
Now, physicists want to unify these two theories and give us what some call the theory of everything.
This theory is so regarded because when it comes, it will show us the complete world of unity between the microworld and the macroworld, which is something that Newton’s, Maxwell’s, and Einstein’s unifications did not accomplish.
So, today, as we celebrate these three greatest unification physicists, we also have at the back of our minds the most eager anticipation of the coming greatest unification of the whole of physics.
Until next time,
I will be here.
– M. V. Echa