Einstein's Coffee




 

It is said that more stories are told about Albert Einstein than of any other famous scientist. Some of them actually happened and others… well who knows.

Albert Einstein's most famous visits to Cal Tech in Pasadena California were in the winters of 1931, 32, and 33 where he discussed his predictions of gravitational waves and postulated what became known as the "Einstein-Rosen Bridge" now more popularly known as a "Wormhole". Less well known were his visits to Henry Richter, inventor of the "Richter Scale" of earthquake magnitude and his final visits in the early '50's where he was hoping to encourage young scientists to pursue the "Holy Grail" of theoretical physics the "Unified Field Theory".

When electrical and magnetic fields were found to be two different aspects of the same thing in the late 19'th century it was realized that other forces, such as gravity, might be part of the grand unification of the natural cosmos. With the discovery of the weak and strong forces that operate within the atom two more forces were added to the list making a total of four. It has been suggested that there are more such forces but they remain to be discovered and, if they exist at all, their properties described.

Einstein was convinced that all of these forces, both discovered and those yet to be found, were different aspects of the same thing. The ultimate goal of theoretical physics would be the discovery of a Grand Unification Theory or GUT that might also be called the TOE or Theory Of Everything. It was Einstein's final wish that someone would pick up the torch and follow this pursuit. It was with this in mind that he made a final series of visits to some of the most famous universities in the world.


Getting accepted to Richard Feynman's undergraduate physics class was almost as difficult as getting accepted to the undergraduate school at Cal Tech in the first place. Feynman was a legend in his own time. He had worked on the atomic bomb project and was a personal friend of Albert Einstein. He was generally recognized as one of the most important physicists since Einstein and he was an amazingly good teacher. And he was willing to teach one class in introductory physics to undergraduate students per year. Victor Holly felt very privileged to be selected to attend this class. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience and opportunity.

After another day of experiencing the "Feynman Effect", a condition where every thing Richard said was crystal clear during the lecture only to fade into misty shadows when one was no longer in his presence, the professor said that he had an important announcement. It seemed that a person of some note was paying a visit to the school and that the presence of a few young physics students was invited.

"Mr. Holly, could you see me after class for a few moments?"

The realization that Feynman even knew Victors name was startling and to be asked to remain after the class was over was more than a bit disturbing.

"I read your paper on Einstein's search for the Unified Field Theory, I understand you think he missed the point the that the answer is actually staring him in the face." It was a statement of fact not a question.

"Well, yes, I guess you could describe it that way, I think that the solution is geometric and not algebraic if that's what you mean."

"I see, well, anyway, would you like the opportunity to explain your ideas to Professor Einstein? He will be here next week and would like to talk to several students including you."

Victor was thunderstruck. "Einstein here and he wants to talk to me? I don't know what to say, I am amazed."

"Well, you can either say yes or no, but I would suggest that you say yes but regardless, don't say anything about his visit, as it is supposed to remain confidential."

In his later years Einstein was phobic about personal appearances especially those that might attract the attention of the press. As a result, his visit to Cal Tech in December of 1953 was kept as confidential as possible. The effort worked as no mention of his appearance at CIT showed up in the papers until long after he returned to Princeton.

So it was set up, Einstein was coming to give a talk and one of the people he wanted to see was Victor Holly to discuss his ideas on the UFT. What the most famous scientist in history could possibly find interesting in anything a freshman had to say was completely baffling.

The lecture and Q&A session was set for two O Clock in the afternoon on Friday and was scheduled to run for two hours. Victor was seated in the lecture hall at eleven thirty. He had his notes with him and a camera just in case there was an opportunity to be photographed with the great man. He nervously paced around the room, a medium size auditorium cum lecture hall able to seat about one hundred. Frequent glances at his watch reminded him of how slowly time passes when you are waiting for something. Finally, a few minutes before one he heard a door open behind him. He assumed that it was either another student or a faculty member hoping to get a good seat by being early.

Suddenly the silence was broken, "How does von get a cup of coffee around here?" It was spoken in a German accent.

Victor spun around, standing not five feet away was Albert Einstein, alone and looking classically disheveled.

Victor tried to speak but couldn't say anything but "Uh. Uh". He studied the face, the man was old, much older than his pictures but there was something about the eyes. They shown with an inner light almost like that of a child.

"There is a large coffee pot in the anteroom, I was going to make some a little later for the meeting."

"Ah, dat's good, ve make some now? No?"

"Yes, Yes, of course." Victor stammered.

As Holly filled the large coffee maker with water the professor was rummaging around in a cupboard. Finally he held up his hand in triumph. He had located the packets of creamer and sugar. "In my youth I vould drink it black but now my stomach objects. I must soften with this." He made a disgusted face.

As the coffee maker gurgled and rumbled Einstein studied Victor's face. "You are a student here or are you von of the teachers?"

Holly flushed, "Just a freshman sir, first year."

"Ah, every von is so young it is difficult to tell von from the other."

Victor held out his hand, "Victor Holly, I am studying physics."

Einstein took Victors hand then reached into his jacket pocket, retrieved a small notebook and began to thumb through it. "Holly, Holly, yes here you are. Victor Holly, Richard told me about you. You are the von that thinks I am all vet on the Unification Theory, no?"

Victor gulped, "Hardly that, I just told Dr. Feynman that I thought you were closer to the solution than you realized." At that moment the coffee maker gave out a series of thumps and a final gurgle, the coffee was ready.

"So you think I have missed something, I genuinely hope you are right. Tell me about your ideas." He smiled, held a cup under the valve of the coffee pot and pressed the lever. "Show me". He gestured toward a large chalkboard at the front of the auditorium.

So the dream of a lifetime came true for Victor Holly. He was discussing advanced theoretical physics with the most famous scientist in the world and the man was actually taking him seriously, or at least so it seemed.

As the chalkboard filled with energy stress tensor equations and hypergeometric expressions the room gradually began to fill with people. When Victor finally turned around he could see that over thirty had quietly entered the room and were watching the discussion between himself and Professor Einstein. One of the people in the audience was Richard Feynman and he had a curious lop sided smile on his face.

Victor tapped the professor on the shoulder and pointed toward the silent audience.

Einstein turned and then realized that they were not alone. He surveyed the group and noticed that there were three women seated amongst the men. "Ah, ve must be late or you are early." He looked at his watch, "Time as a way of slipping by when you are enjoying your self. Mr. Holly has been telling me about some of his interesting ideas on unification. But we will continue that later. I see Professor Feynman is here, Richard, would you like to take over?"

Feynman looked at Holly, "I see you have coffee, is there any more?"

"Yes sir" said Victor, "Dr. Einstein has made a full pot." He gestured toward the alcove where the coffee urn stood waiting.

Someone had brought in cookies and some sandwiches and placed them on the table by the coffee pot. "Ah!" said the Professor, "Ve eat!"

Feynman turned to Victor, "I can't believe you made Dr. Einstein make the coffee."

As Victor was about to say something Einstein interrupted, "Vot, I can't make coffee? I can still do a few things, and," he smiled wickedly, "Mr. Holly made sure I did it right."

The word that the most famous scientist in the world had made coffee for the meeting got around almost immediately with the result that everyone wanted a cup. It was as if somehow drinking coffee that had made by theman himself conveyed magical powers.

The presentation went well. However, considering that the intent was to encourage young would be physicists to take up the quest for the unified field theory it was noted that the room was filled to capacity and mostly by faculty, there was very little room for students.

The following Monday, on his way to organic chemistry, Victor heard someone call out his name, It was Feynman. "Well, how did it go with Einstein Friday? The two of you looked like old friends at the meeting."

"It was truly amazing, I can't thank you enough for setting it up."

"Well, what did he think of your ideas?"

Victor smiled "He was very nice about it, he said that he had tried that approach in 1921 and decided that it wouldn't work."

"Really, I have read everything he ever published and have never seen it."

"He said that when he realized that he couldn't make it work he decided not to publish but he said that he would find his paper and send me a copy. I am sure he doesn't think I can make it work either but having an unpublished paper by Einstein will be a real treasure. He also autographed my copy of his book. What a thrill, he really is a great man in more ways than one."

Later that week Victor was in Dr. Feynman's office to discuss a question he had about quantum theory when he noticed a paper coffee cup in a place of honor in the glassed front bookcase. "Is that from last Friday's meeting?"

Feynman chuckled, "You might be surprised to know that just about everyone that was there kept one of those. Einstein's Coffee is probably going to become an institution around here and maybe even a legend."

"Shoot, and I didn't even keep mine."

"But an unpublished paper and an autographed book should be even better."

Holly grinned, "Oh they are Professor, they truly are." He looked out the window and could see several students stringing lights on a Christmas tree on the lawn and there was the faint sound of singing drifting through the window. "Happy Chanukah Professor."

"Merry Christmas Mr. Holly"

 

The End


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