Monday, January 23, 2017

History of general relativity

A new paper summarizes the history of general relativity:
This short exposition starts with a brief discussion of situation before the completion of special relativity (Le Verrier's discovery of the Mercury perihelion advance anomaly, Michelson-Morley experiment, Eotvos experiment, Newcomb's improved observation of Mercury perihelion advance, the proposals of various new gravity theories and the development of tensor analysis and differential geometry) and accounts for the main conceptual developments leading to the completion of the general relativity: gravity has finite velocity of propagation; energy also gravitates; Einstein proposed his equivalence principle and deduced the gravitational redshift; Minkowski formulated the special relativity in 4-dimantional spacetime and derived the 4-dimensional electromagnetic stress-energy tensor; Einstein derived the gravitational deflection from his equivalence principle; Laue extended the Minkowski's method of constructing electromagnetic stress-energy tensor to stressed bodies, dust and relativistic fluids; Abraham, Einstein, and Nordstrom proposed their versions of scalar theories of gravity in 1911-13; Einstein and Grossmann first used metric as the basic gravitational entity and proposed a "tensor" theory of gravity (the "Entwurf" theory, 1913); Einstein proposed a theory of gravity with Ricci tensor proportional to stress-energy tensor (1915); Einstein, based on 1913 Besso-Einstein collaboration, correctly derived the relativistic perihelion advance formula of his new theory which agreed with observation (1915); Hilbert discovered the Lagrangian for electromagnetic stress-energy tensor and the Lagrangian for the gravitational field (1915), and stated the Hilbert variational principle; Einstein equation of general relativity was proposed (1915); Einstein published his foundation paper (1916).
This is a good balanced view, and informative for anyone who thinks that Einstein did it all. He made some key contributions, but a lot of the crucial work was done by others.

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