Compare and contrast the various ways that the experimental and theoretical parts of science interact.

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This is a question having such complex ramifications that we will have to limit ourselves to a single example in relatively recent scientific history, in which a basic point is illustrated.

In the early twentieth century, Albert Einstein developed the theoretical basis of modern physics. Both his explanation of the...

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This is a question having such complex ramifications that we will have to limit ourselves to a single example in relatively recent scientific history, in which a basic point is illustrated.

In the early twentieth century, Albert Einstein developed the theoretical basis of modern physics. Both his explanation of the photoelectric effect and, of course, his theory of special relativity were huge advances in man's understanding of subatomic particles and the basis of the relationship between matter and energy. Like Newton's over two hundred years earlier, Einstein's accomplishment is such that any observer, whether scientist or layperson, is astonished at the magnitude of his achievement. In each case, the previous understanding of the physical world and the basis of how it operates was by comparison rudimentary and primitive. Yet in Einstein's case, it was thirty years later that experiments in the lab, conducted by Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn, accomplished nuclear fission, the splitting of the atom. The question can be posed: to what degree would these scientists have been able to accomplish their fulfillment of theoretical principles (including those not only of Einstein but also of scientists such as Ernest Rutherford, Neils Bohr, and numerous others) if they had not had the theoretical work behind them as a starting point? I tend to think that, at least in the twentieth century, theory and practice are inseparable.

Another question looms large relating to this issue. The letter written by Einstein and his fellow theoretical physicist Leo Szilard to President Roosevelt in 1939 was the initial spur for the US government to develop the atomic bomb. Without Einstein's prestige, it's unlikely that FDR would have taken the issue as seriously as he did and realized the United States must act quickly given the possibility the Germans would simultaneously develop the same weaponry. Here, theory and experimentation/practice were joined in a vital effort in which the survival of the world was at stake.

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