Would there be a smartphone today without Einstein's discoveries?

  • Thread starter somega
  • Start date
  • #1
32
2

Main Question or Discussion Point

I told a friend that without Einstein's discoveries he would not have his smartphone.

I thought about the components (display, CPU, radio waves, ...) containing discoveries made by Einstein. But I can't name an exact example.

My friend told me it's all pure electronics. No relativity and so on...

Who is right?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
phinds
Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2019 Award
16,240
6,321
You are. Maxwell's equations are not compatible with Newtonian mechanics and require Einstein's Special Relativity to mathematically explain electricity. Engineers had been building power plants long before SR was developed (because we engineers are so clever) but SR was needed for the math that allowed mathematical exploration of things like semiconductors. Actually, it may be that only the Lorentz Transform is needed but I always associate that with SR anyway. Maybe one of our more knowledgeable members will jump in if I have that wrong.

You could also point out to him that his GPS would not work without General Relativity.
 
  • #3
Merlin3189
Homework Helper
Gold Member
1,592
731
Maybe you were thinking of satnav, where relativistic corrections for satellite clocks are necessary?

But on the general point, my opinion is that most technology is a synthesis of a multitude of contributions. So it hardly makes more sense to say something wouln't exist without one particular idea than any other.

When I studied mobile phone technology ( and I don't remember Einstein being mentioned) someone pointed out the maths we needed had been developed 200 years ago, before any sort of telephone existed, let alone the DSP CPU's we were using. My own worry was the battery. I doubted such high specific energies could be achieved. But then I hadn't previously appreciated the power reduction enabled by spread spectrum and DSP.
 
  • Like
Likes hutchphd, mpresic3 and russ_watters
  • #4
phinds
Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2019 Award
16,240
6,321
Maybe you were thinking of satnav, where relativistic corrections for satellite clocks are necessary?
Is satnav something different than GPS? If so, it's not what I was talking about. GPS relies on both SR (for orbit speed) and GR (for gravity well) for corrections.
 
  • #5
DrClaude
Mentor
7,344
3,543
Is satnav something different than GPS? If so, it's not what I was talking about. GPS relies on both SR (for orbit speed) and GR (for gravity well) for corrections.
You say satnav, I say GPS... The first is the British expression, the second the American.
 
  • Informative
Likes phinds
  • #6
DrClaude
Mentor
7,344
3,543
But on the general point, my opinion is that most technology is a synthesis of a multitude of contributions. So it hardly makes more sense to say something wouln't exist without one particular idea than any other.
I also do not like that kind of thinking because if it were not for Einstein, we still would have figured out relativity by now. Scientific discovery is not like invention or artistic expression.
 
  • Like
Likes russ_watters, sophiecentaur, Merlin3189 and 1 other person
  • #7
phinds
Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2019 Award
16,240
6,321
I also do not like that kind of thinking because if it were not for Einstein, we still would have figured out relativity by now.
Right. He didn't actually ask about Einstein (although I do agree he probably meant it that way), he asked about the discoveries and that was the point I was addressing.
 
  • Like
Likes DrClaude
  • #8
Merlin3189
Homework Helper
Gold Member
1,592
731
We are talking about the same thing. I suppose I used satnav because that is what (I think) people here call their in-car devices. GPS is also in common use for phone apps and personal navigators used by walkers and cyclists. Of course many people simply call them by brand names.
It's hard to keep up with language these days. Useage changes so quickly and IMO often illogically!)
 
  • Like
Likes phinds
  • #9
FactChecker
Science Advisor
Gold Member
5,713
2,116
I also do not like that kind of thinking because if it were not for Einstein, we still would have figured out relativity by now. Scientific discovery is not like invention or artistic expression.
Yes, but the question was not about Einstein, but rather about his discoveries. If those discoveries were never made by anyone, the situation would be very different. We should also not forget that Einstein was a major player in quantum theory, which has a role in making the electronics so small. We might have smartphones that do as much, but we might have to carry them in a 50 lb. backpack.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Likes Klystron and Vanadium 50
  • #10
Baluncore
Science Advisor
2019 Award
7,824
2,738
The work of Einstein was not essential for smartphones.
On the path from Maxwell to smartphones, Einstein branched off into relativity.
Einstein built Relativity on the work of Maxwell.

Timeline...
Faraday did the initial electromagnetic experiments. 1832.
Maxwell took the experiments of Faraday and identified a mathematical basis. 1864.
Heaviside rationalised Maxwell's equations and came up with a vector representation. 1884.
Hertz demonstrated Maxwell's radio waves really did exist. 1888.
Lodge invented radio frequency tuning in 1897.
Einstein took the work of Maxwell and explained it with Special Relativity. 1905.
Einstein then extended SR to the general case, GR. 1915.
WWII saw the conceptual start of spread spectrum. 1945.
Spread Spectrum, PRBS Gold codes = ranging codes began use in the 1960s.
Navstar (GPS) needed digital technology. 1978.
VLSI advances and computers then made smartphones possible.
 
  • #11
f95toli
Science Advisor
Gold Member
3,010
504
The work of Einstein was not essential for smartphones.
I disagree, sort of, depending on what you mean :wink:
Einstein did a LOT of work in solid-state physics, statistical physics etc and this work was vital for the development of semiconductor physics and modern electronics.
Einstein would have been a very import scientist even if had never done anything related to relativity.
 
  • Like
Likes DaveE and FactChecker
  • #12
Baluncore
Science Advisor
2019 Award
7,824
2,738
Einstein did a LOT of work in solid-state physics, statistical physics etc and this work was vital for the development of semiconductor physics and modern electronics.
Transistors were discovered experimentally, and developed practically, all without Einstein's help.
What is "a LOT" ?
Exactly what do you claim Einstein did that was so essential to smartphone technology ?

Maxwell's equations held perfectly well before Einstein's theoretical explanation. The fact that Einstein could extract Special Relativity from Maxwell's equations demonstrated the fundamental credibility of Maxwell's equations.
Maxwell's equations are essential to smartphone technology. Theory and Relativity are not.
 
  • #13
32
2
Can we say as a conclusion that Einstein's influence to smartphones is there but it's very small?
 
  • #14
eq1
161
62
Transistors were discovered experimentally, and developed practically, all without Einstein's help.
What is "a LOT" ?
Exactly what do you claim Einstein did that was so essential to smartphone technology ?
Einstein worked on a ton of stuff, much of it foundational. I’m sure it’s possible to find something.

For example, his analysis of Browian motion was foundational to statistical physics which is critical to understand the manufacturing processes in VLSI.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Übe...ruhenden_Flüssigkeiten_suspendierten_Teilchen
 
  • #15
eq1
161
62
Can we say as a conclusion that Einstein's influence to smartphones is there but it's very small?
It’s hard to answer. If you’re missing a critical step you can’t complete the journey, regardless of the step’s size.
 
  • Like
Likes zoki85
  • #16
f95toli
Science Advisor
Gold Member
3,010
504
Transistors were discovered experimentally, and developed practically, all without Einstein's help.
What is "a LOT" ?
Exactly what do you claim Einstein did that was so essential to smartphone technology ?
The work I am thinking of pre-dates transistors by decades. The Einstein model for solids was very important at the time and so was his aforementioned work on statistical physics.
I guess it depends on how important you think "basic" solid-state physics is for applied semiconductor physics.
 
  • #17
sophiecentaur
Science Advisor
Gold Member
24,838
4,634
No one can really believe that Einstein was the only one who could have thought up his various theories. Someone else would have come up with versions of all his theories at around the same time as he did. Why do people seem to want a Poster Boy or a Messiah attached to everything? It's not a beauty contest.

You could just as well consider the possible effect of Einstein's statement that he didn't believe God Plays Dice. That opinion from a well respected source of information is very likely to have affected the way others approached Quantum Theory and that could have actually had a negative influence on our Science time-line. But, so what??? Science works as a group effort and many theories have evolved quite independently by different workers.

Imo, the title of the question in the thread could just as easily been stated in a positive way. If you want a negative aspect to Einstein's work then perhaps he could be blamed for the rapid development of the Atom Bomb. He is reputed to have said just the right words to POTUS of the time in order to get the Manhattan Project funded quickly. Any significant delay in the work might have prevented the Hiroshima and Nagasaki outrages before the end of WW2.

But it's all water under the bridge. Now, who could we blame for the appearance of COVID 19?
 
  • #18
Baluncore
Science Advisor
2019 Award
7,824
2,738
Einstein worked on a ton of stuff, much of it foundational. I’m sure it’s possible to find something.
If you are so sure then it should be easy for you.
For example, his analysis of Browian motion was foundational to statistical physics which is critical to understand the manufacturing processes in VLSI.
Brownian motion was described in 1827 by Brown. The fact that Einstein was interested and modelled it in 1905 was not essential to the development of photography, or of VLSI processing. It was Perrin who received that Nobel Prize for Physics in 1926, not Einstein.

Maxwell was an applied mathematician who died in 1879 aged 48. He has been largely forgotten because he was not publicly acclaimed. If you look at his work you will see why he should be a hero of Britain.
On the other hand, Einstein was a most unusual character, a German physicist and a Jewish victim, who took part in the Manhattan Project. He died in 1955 at the age of 76. He naturally became a hero of the USA. As such, he is often awarded merit without due examination.
 
  • Like
Likes sophiecentaur
  • #19
eq1
161
62
The fact that Einstein was interested and modelled it in 1905 was not essential to the development of photography, or of VLSI processing.
This whole thing is really just opinion based.

I only know of that paper because it is mentioned in an undergraduate physics book I read recently [1] as important. I could’ve also mentioned the Bose-Einstein distribution which is important in LED screens, etc etc.

At the end of the day, you’re entitled to your opinion and we’re entitled to ours. :)

[1] Understanding Semiconductor Devices, Dimitrijev. A great introduction I think.
 
  • #20
russ_watters
Mentor
19,716
6,060
How about the photoelectric effect, which is the basis for digital cameras, and what Einstein won his Nobel Prize for.
 
  • Like
Likes davenn, Klystron and DaveE
  • #21
Baluncore
Science Advisor
2019 Award
7,824
2,738
How about the photoelectric effect, which is the basis for digital cameras, and what Einstein won his Nobel Prize for.
He proposed a theoretical law that explained the photoelectric effect, he did not discover the effect itself.

The photoelectric effect was well known prior to Planck proposing packets of electromagnetic energy, or Einstein extending that to the photoelectric effect, which may have been a key step in the later development of quantum theory by Schrodinger, Heisenberg & Born et al.

Einstein sat on the theoretical side of the table. His development of theories to explain other's observations does not constitute an essential part in the advancement of the art of a technology.

The lack of a theoretical basis has never prevented the application of an observed phenomenon to technology. The theoreticians are mostly playing "second guess" catch-up.
 
  • #22
eq1
161
62
He proposed a theoretical law that explained the photoelectric effect, he did not discover the effect itself.
Just out of curiosity, what point do you think you’re arguing? I’m having a hard time pinning it down.


The way I think about it is, there is a large interconnected graph. Nodes are all human physics discoveries (theoretical or applied) and arcs show which discoveries begat other ones, a node can have multiple arcs in and out. There is a subset of nodes that is needed for “smartphone”. My claim: A node in that set has Einstein’s name on it.

I am not assigning weights to nodes or arcs.
 
  • #23
russ_watters
Mentor
19,716
6,060
He proposed a theoretical law that explained the photoelectric effect, he did not discover the effect itself.
Just out of curiosity, what point do you think you’re arguing? I’m having a hard time pinning it down.
It's the wording of the OP/title: "Einstein's discoveries". Strictly speaking Einstein discovered very little, since most of his work was theoretical. But I don't think the OP should be read that strictly.

But I do disagree strongly with this:
Baluncore said:
His development of theories to explain other's observations does not constitute an essential part in the advancement of the art of a technology.

The lack of a theoretical basis has never prevented the application of an observed phenomenon to technology.
Without a theoretical basis there is no way to quantify and predict the behavior of a phenomena under new conditions. Most inventors aren't just assembling parts in the dark; they calculate the performance of their device as part of the design. They are able to do so because someone worked out the theoretical basis for its operation.
 
  • #24
Baluncore
Science Advisor
2019 Award
7,824
2,738
Most inventors aren't just assembling parts in the dark; they calculate the performance of their device as part of the design. They are able to do so because someone worked out the theoretical basis for its operation.
“Theory” means a different thing to a physicist than it does to an engineer.
“Theoretical physics” is not the “practical physics” that engineers call “theory”, while they practice what has proved safe and successful in the past according to a code.

It is the job of a theoretician to look for a big picture, to tie the threads together and so establish a rational basis to a confused field. That makes it possible to communicate, teach and reason in bigger conceptual chunks, without having to learn a million pieces of disconnected trivia.

Sometimes a theoretician will suggest an approach that might realise a new technology, previously published only in science fiction.
 
  • #25
russ_watters
Mentor
19,716
6,060
“Theory” means a different thing to a physicist than it does to an engineer.
“Theoretical physics” is not the “practical physics” that engineers call “theory”, while they practice what has proved safe and successful in the past according to a code.

It is the job of a theoretician to look for a big picture, to tie the threads together and so establish a rational basis to a confused field. That makes it possible to communicate, teach and reason in bigger conceptual chunks, without having to learn a million pieces of disconnected trivia.

Sometimes a theoretician will suggest an approach that might realise a new technology, previously published only in science fiction.
That's all fine, but I don't see how it addresses what we were discussing.
 

Related Threads on Would there be a smartphone today without Einstein's discoveries?

  • Last Post
Replies
19
Views
8K
  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
790
Replies
3
Views
5K
Replies
6
Views
1K
Replies
11
Views
831
  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
928
Replies
10
Views
979
Replies
6
Views
11K
Replies
11
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
19
Views
2K
Top