In December, I attended a wonderful conference celebrating the centenary of the general theory of relativity, hosted by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. The meeting, which took place in Berlin’s splendid Harnack Haus, was a feast for anyone with an interest in Einstein’s theories or indeed the history of 20th century science.
Harnack Haus in Berlin
There were many talks by historians I have long admired, such as Helge Kragh, Jurgen Renn, Jean Eisenstaedt, Hannoch Gutfreund , Daniel Kennefick, Chris Smeek and Dennis Lehmkuhl, to name a few. Topics covered included the genesis of general relativity in the 1910s, the low watermark of GR in the period 1940-1960, the history of gravitational waves, the renaissance of GR in the 1960s, the history of gravitational lensing, the history of the black hole information paradox and the history of relativistic cosmology. As regards the latter, I was delighted to give a talk on our recent work concerning Einstein’s cosmology. The program for the conference can be found here and videos of all the talks will soon be available . You can download the slides for my own talk here.
The conference room in Harnack Haus
Best of all, the history conference took place immediately after a conference on general relativity in the same venue, organised by the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics. Many delegates chose to attend both conferences , a double feast. It included talks by noted researchers such as Rai Weiss, Paul Steinhardt, Joeseph Polchinski, Eric Adelberger, David Gross and Alexander Blum. Topics covered included black holes, gravitational waves, quantum gravity, the cosmological constant and tests of the equivalence principle. Many of the talks, although technical, took a historical approach: you can find the program here. I was particularly chuffed that Paul Steinhardt discussed my own group’s work on Einstein’s cosmology.
All in all, a superb week in Berlin, where it all started. I found the combination of a conference on physics with a conference on the history of physics very satisfying. It fits very nicely with my conviction that the study of the history of science isn’t really a branch of historical study in the normal sense – it’s more the study of the evolution of science. .