The Annus Mirabilis papers (from Latin annus mīrābilis, "extraordinary year") are the papers of Albert Einstein published in the Annalen der Physik scientific journal in 1905. These four articles contributed substantially to the foundation of modern physics and changed views on space, time, and matter. The Annus Mirabilis is often called the "Miracle Year" in English or Wunderjahr in German.
At the time the papers were written, Einstein did not have easy access to a complete set of scientific reference materials, although he did regularly read and contribute reviews to Annalen der Physik. Additionally, scientific colleagues available to discuss his theories were few. He worked as an examiner at the Patent Office in Bern, Switzerland, and he later said of a co-worker there, Michele Besso, that he "could not have found a better sounding board for his ideas in all of Europe". In addition to co-workers and the other members of the self-styled "Olympian Academy" (Solovine and Habicht), his wife, Mileva Marić, may have had some influence on Einstein's work but how much is unclear. Through these papers, Einstein tackles some of the era's most important physics questions and problems. In 1900, a lecture titled "Nineteenth-Century Clouds over the Dynamical Theory of Heat and Light", by Lord Kelvin, suggested that physics had no satisfactory explanations for the results of the Michelson-Morley experiment and for black body radiation. As introduced, special relativity provided an account for the results of the Michelson-Morley experiments. Einstein's theories for the photoelectric effect extended the quantum theory which Max Planck had developed in his successful explanation of black body radiation.
Despite the greater fame achieved by his other works, such as that on special relativity, it was his work on the photoelectric effect which won him his Nobel Prize in 1921: "For services to theoretical physics and especially for the discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect." The Nobel committee had waited patiently for experimental confirmation of special relativity; however none was forthcoming until the time dilation experiments of Ives and Stilwell (1938), (1941) and Rossi and Hall (1941).
The paper, "On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light", proposed the idea of energy quanta. This idea, motivated by Max Planck's earlier derivation of the law of black body radiation, assumes that luminous energy can be absorbed or emitted only in discrete amounts, called quanta. Einstein states,
The idea of light quanta contradicts the wave theory of light that follows naturally from James Clerk Maxwell's equations for electromagnetic behavior and, more generally, the assumption of infinite divisibility of energy in physical systems.
Einstein noted that the photoelectric effect depended on the wavelength, and hence the frequency of the light. At too low a frequency, even intense light produced no electrons. However, once a certain frequency was reached, even low intensity light produced electrons. He compared this to Planck's hypothesis that light could be emitted only in packets of energy given by hf, where h is Planck's constant and f is the frequency. He then postulated that light travels in packets whose energy depends on the frequency, and therefore only light above a certain frequency would bring sufficient energy to liberate an electron.
Even after experiments confirmed that Einstein's equations for the photoelectric effect were accurate, his explanation was not universally accepted. Niels Bohr, in his 1922 Nobel address, stated, "The hypothesis of light-quanta is not able to throw light on the nature of radiation."
By 1921, when Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize and his work on photoelectricity was mentioned by name in the award citation, some physicists accepted that the equation () was correct and light quanta were possible. In 1923, Arthur Compton's X-ray scattering experiment helped more of the scientific community to accept this formula. The theory of light quanta was a strong indicator of wave-particle duality, a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics. A complete picture of the theory of photoelectricity was realized after the maturity of quantum mechanics.
The article "Über die von der molekularkinetischen Theorie der Wärme geforderte Bewegung von in ruhenden Flüssigkeiten suspendierten Teilchen" ("On the Motion of Small Particles Suspended in a Stationary Liquid, as Required by the Molecular Kinetic Theory of Heat") delineated a stochastic model of Brownian motion.
Brownian motion generates expressions for the root mean square displacement of particles. Using the kinetic theory of fluids, which at the time was controversial, the article established the phenomenon, which was lacking a satisfactory explanation even decades after the first observation, provided empirical evidence for the reality of the atom. It also lent credence to statistical mechanics, which had been controversial at that time, as well. Before this paper, atoms were recognized as a useful concept, but physicists and chemists debated whether atoms were real entities. Einstein's statistical discussion of atomic behavior gave experimentalists a way to count atoms by looking through an ordinary microscope. Wilhelm Ostwald, one of the leaders of the anti-atom school, later told Arnold Sommerfeld that he had been convinced of the existence of atoms by Einstein's complete explanation of Brownian motion.
Einstein's "Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper" ("On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies"), his third paper that year, was published on June 30. It reconciles Maxwell's equations for electricity and magnetism with the laws of mechanics, by introducing major changes to mechanics close to the speed of light. This later became known as Einstein's special theory of relativity.
The paper mentions the name of only five other scientists, Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, Heinrich Hertz, Christian Doppler, and Hendrik Lorentz. It does not have any references to any other publications. Many of the ideas had already been published by others, as detailed in History of special relativity. However, Einstein's paper introduces a new theory of time, distance, mass, and energy that was consistent with electromagnetism, but omitted the force of gravity.
At the time, it was known that Maxwell's equations, when applied to moving bodies, led to asymmetries, and that it had not been possible to discover any motion of the Earth relative to the 'light medium'. Einstein puts forward two postulates to explain these observations. First, he applies the classic principle of relativity, which states that the laws of physics remain the same for any non-accelerating frame of reference (called an inertial reference frame), to the laws of electrodynamics and optics as well as mechanics. In the second postulate, Einstein proposes that the speed of light has the same value in all inertial frames of reference, independent of the state of motion of the emitting body.
Special relativity is thus consistent with the result of the Michelson-Morley experiment, which had not detected a medium of conductance (or aether) for light waves unlike other known waves that require a medium (such as water or air). Einstein states,
It had previously been conjectured, by George FitzGerald in 1894 and by Lorentz 1895, independent of each other, that the Michelson-Morley result could be accounted for if moving bodies were contracted in the direction of their motion. Some of the paper's core equations, the Lorentz transforms, had been published by Joseph Larmor (1897, 1900), Hendrik Lorentz (1899, 1903, 1904) and Henri Poincaré (1905), in a development of Lorentz's 1904 paper. Einstein revealed the underlying causes for this geometrical oddity, which differed from the explanations given by FitzGerald, Larmor, and Lorentz, but were similar in many respects to the reasons given by Poincaré (1905).
The second is the rule that the speed of light is the same for every observer.
The theory, now called the special theory of relativity, distinguishes it from his later general theory of relativity, which considers all observers to be equivalent. Special relativity gained widespread acceptance remarkably quickly, confirming Einstein's comment that it had been "ripe for discovery" in 1905. Acknowledging the role of Max Planck in the early dissemination of his ideas, Einstein wrote in 1913 "The attention that this theory so quickly received from colleagues is surely to be ascribed in large part to the resoluteness and warmth with which he [Planck] intervened for this theory". In addition, the improved mathematical formulation of the theory by Hermann Minkowski in 1907 was influential in gaining acceptance for the theory. Also, and most importantly, the theory was supported by an ever-increasing body of confirmatory experimental evidence.
On September 27 Annalen der Physik published a fourth paper, "Ist die Trägheit eines Körpers von seinem Energieinhalt abhängig?" ("Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?"), in which Einstein developed an argument for arguably the most famous equation in the field of physics: E = mc². Einstein considered the equivalency equation to be of paramount importance because it showed that a massive particle possesses an energy, the "rest energy", distinct from its classical kinetic and potential energies.
The equation sets forth that energy of a body at rest (E) equals its mass (m) times the speed of light (c) squared, or E = mc².
The mass-energy relation can be used to predict how much energy will be released or consumed by nuclear reactions; one simply measures the mass of all constituents and products and multiplies the difference by c2. The result shows how much energy will be released or consumed, usually in the form of light or heat. When applied to certain nuclear reactions, the equation shows that an extraordinarily large amount of energy will be released, much larger than in the combustion of chemical explosives, where the mass difference is hardly measurable at all. This explains why nuclear weapons produce such phenomenal amounts of energy, as they release binding energy during nuclear fission and nuclear fusion, and also convert a much larger portion of subatomic mass to energy.
The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) resolved to commemorate the 100th year of the publication of Einstein's extensive work in 1905 as the 'World Year of Physics 2005'. This was subsequently endorsed by the United Nations.
The following two papers appear in The Principle of Relativity, London: Methuen and Company, Ltd. (1923) in English translations by George Barker Jeffery and Wilfrid Perrett from the German Das Relativätsprinzip, Teubner, 4th ed., (1922).
Another translation by Megh Nad Saha appears in The Principle of Relativity: Original Papers by A. Einstein and H. Minkowski, University of Calcutta, 1920, pp. 1-34: