Notes to the Animated Presentation
of the Special Theory of Relativity

by Natalia Savvidy

This presentation is an entry for the Pirelli Relativity Challenge 2005, a special award to mark the centenary of the publication of the Theory.

Five papers submitted by Einstein in 1905, his annus mirabilis, were covering three topics: the photoelectric effect, brownian motion, and the special theory of relativity, and were landmarks in their fields. The general public did not get excited about Einstein's photoelectric effect or his brownian motion, but relativity became a fashionable notion.

The original title that Einstein was using for the theory was (translated from German) "Theory of Invariants". It was Max Planck who suggested the term "relativity" to highlight the notion of transforming the laws of physics between observers moving relative to one another. From the point of view of Arnold Sommerfeld: "The name relativity theory was an unfortunate choice: The relativity of space and time is not the essential thing, which is the independence of laws of Nature from the viewpoint of the observer."

That not only space, but time is relative, is a consequence of the Special Theory of Relativity. It revealed that old conventions and standards can be thrown away. That suited the mood of people in all aspects of their activities and conributed to the creation of the myth connected with Einstein's name. Another factor was "the mystery of non-understanding", as Einstein said in an interview in 1921. Everybody knew that Einstein had done something very important, but almost nobody could tell exactly what it was. In the century remarkable for great achievements in physics Einstein became not only a personification of physics, but also a symbol of human intelligence.

Traditionally it was supposed that the Special Theory of Relativity can be understood only by specialists and so one did not need to be anxious that others would think that one is stupid for not knowing it. But there are always people eager for gaining knowledge, and there are physicists ready to share their knowledge with the general puplic. Most of the interested people, though, are not going to spend much time on the Special Theory of Relativity. They would rather get an idea about it from a competent specialist in just few minutes. But there is a lack of presentations of the Theory exactly of that kind. A competent specialist considers that it is impossible to explain so serious subject in few minutes. There are very good presentations like the famouse book of E. F. Taylor and J. A. Wheeler, Spacetime Physics, W.H Freeman and Company, 1992, that requires much time from a serious reader. It is thought to be a book that attracts students, most of whom will not become physics majors, but can experience "deep physics", as Edwin F. Taylor writes.

A serious short presentation could be useful both for those who are not going to spend more time on the subject and for those whom it may stimulate for further studying.

E. F. Taylor and J. A. Wheeler, Spacetime Physics, W.H Freeman and Company, 1992.