To answer the question of who made the most significant contribution to the field of physics, one must first identify the most significant contribution to physics. Physics, at its essence, is the study of the motion of an object. However, the description of an object’s motion can significantly depend on the viewer’s perspective (minutephysics). For instance, a person riding a train could see themselves as stationary and everything else moving around them. However, a person watching this moving train from outside could view themselves as the stationary object and the train moving. Which perspective is true? Both perspectives can be true, as long as the point of view is clarified.
Newtonian physics explored perspective by applying this concept of relativity where an object’s motion was defined by its relative speed and position to another object (minutephysics). However, time and space were unchangeable, and everlasting in Newton’s laws of motion. Therefore, under Newton’s laws, no object’s motion was identical in all perspectives (minutephysics). However, contradicting this very notion were Maxwell’s experimental results which showed that the speed of light was constant in all its relative perspectives (Wiley VCH Author). According to Maxwell’s equations, the speed of light relative to a man standing on an unmoving train was the same as that of a man traveling on a high-speed train. Therefore, if Maxwell’s equation proved right Newton’s laws did not, and vice versa. This very contradiction caused great confusion in determining what was true and untrue in the study of motion and therefore physics itself.
The only scientist to develop an answer to this debate was Albert Einstein with his theory of relativity (SciencejRank authors). A significant hindrance to the contradicting laws of Newton and Maxwell was that time and space, the basic concepts that ruled physics, were always stable for all objects. However, for the speed of light to stay constant, space and time had to be changeable (TED-ED). A person traveling on a high-speed train traveled more distance than a person standing in a stationary one (TED-ED). Therefore for the speed of light to stay constant in both standpoints, the time has to travel faster in the faster-moving object and slower in the slower-moving one (TED-ED). Einstein saw that the concepts of space and time were interlinked rather than independent and showed how their interlinked characteristic was relative to the speed of light and affected the motion of every object.
It is easy to argue that Einstein could not have developed the theory of relativity without Newton’s laws and Maxwell’s equations. While that might hold, it is crucial to realize that Einstein did not try to prove one scientist or the other wrong but redefine what space and time were. Einstein reformed the two ideas—space and time—that the field of physics was built upon and corrected the worldly view of studying the motion of objects. Until the theory of relativity can be disproven it stands as the greatest discovery in physics because it shows us how to study the motion of objects. Einstein did not discover another aspect of physics but another secret of the universe. Like the constancy of the speed of light, it is an unbreakable truth that Einstein was, is, and will be the scientist who made the most significant contribution of all to the field of physics.
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