If you’ve always wondered what E=mc² actually means, what sort of bloke Albert Einstein was, and why clouds don’t fall down, this year, the World Year of Physics, is your chance to find out.

The World Year of Physics is an international celebration of physics, timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s “miraculous year.” In 1905, Einstein, aged just 26, revolutionized much of science with three groundbreaking advances: he proved of the existence of atoms and molecules, he validated the emerging field of quantum mechanics, and he developed the theory of special relativity which led to the most famous equation ever written, E=mc²

New Zealand’s Year of Physics will be officially launched by Nobel laureate Professor Alan MacDiarmid at the opening of Stonehenge Aotearoa in the Wairarapa.

Stonehenge Aotearoa, which stands on a rural site a few kilometres east of the Wairarapa town of Carterton , harks back to the very beginning of science when humans first attempted to measure their time and position in the universe. The Kiwi henge, which is positioned to mark local celestial events such as solstices, will be a teaching tool to demonstrate how ancient people got information on the seasons, time and navigation.

“What better place to kick off the Year of Physics, which is all about the long genealogy of scientists from prehistoric times, who gradually worked out our place in the universe, how to navigate, how to record the passing of time, and the rules that make the universe tick,” says Dr Steve Thompson, chief executive of the Royal Society, said.

For the rest of the year, the Royal Society of New Zealand, the New Zealand Institute of Physics, and the physics and astronomy departments of New Zealand’s universities, are pooling resources to put on a comprehensive programme for the Year of Physics.

There is a nationwide secondary school video competition, tours by international scientists and presentations on diverse topics such as building the world’s largest radio telescope, spanning 5,000 kilometres from Western Australia to New Zealand, and just how NASA sent the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn.

As well, there will be a comprehensive website, which will show current research, ranging from how the dust in the atmosphere of Mars remains there because of Brownian Motion (first properly analysed by Einstein in 1905), quantum optics (which in a way all started with Einstein’s insights in his 1905 photoelectric effect paper) and the search for new planets using gravitational lensing (which was first predicted by Einstein).

“We all find physics the most fascinating of careers and want to share some of this enthusiasm with young people by showing physics as a special way of knowing about the processes that make the universe the way it is,” says Professor Geoff Austin, president of the New Zealand Institute of Physics.

“We hope this dramatic story will be more apparent to young people as a result of our efforts and that this collaborative effort will help a little to produce a new generation of up and coming distinguished scientists to rank alongside [Nobel laureates] Ernest Rutherford, Maurice Wilkins and Alan MacDiarmid.”

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