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The specter of genius

Exhibition on the life and contributions of Albert Einstein, the scientist who is one of the major symbols of the 20th century.

EDUARDO CESARAfter the Genome Revolution exhibition, open from February to July, another exhibition from the US’s Natural History Museum will come to Armando de Arruda Pereira exhibition hall, in São Paulo’s Ibirapuera Park. The exhibition, open until December, will focus on the life, the theories and the world of one of the most important scientists ever: Albert Einstein (1879-1955), the German physicist who lived in the United States. First held in New York in 2002 and visited by more than 2 million people in several countries, the Einstein exhibition includes personal objects, photographs, copies of letters and manuscripts of the father of the Theory of Relativity. Instituto Sangari, responsible for organizing the event, expects 300 to 400 thousand people from São Paulo City alone to visit the exhibition, which will also travel to a number of other cities in Brazil.

The exhibition is divided into ten theme-based sections, which combine the scientist’s biographical and academic achievements. The section “Life and Times” focuses on Einstein’s personal life and career. The highlight in the “Light” section is an installation that challenges the visitor to cross a room crisscrossed with beams of light without touching them – Einstein was awarded the 1921 Nobel Award for Physics in acknowledgement of his explanation of the photoelectric effect. “Time” has several installations that explore the relativity of time concept. “Atoms” focuses on the ideas that opened up the doors to quantum physics. In “Energy,” the outstanding piece is the equation (E = mc2) with which Einstein inferred the relationship between energy and mass. The sector on “Gravity” has an image that gets deformed because of the gravity coming from the person that comes close to it; this image illustrates the General Theory of Relativity. “War and Peace” exploits the scientist’s pacifist concerns in relation to the use of nuclear energy. “Global Citizen” illustrates Einstein’s commitment to anti-segregation and anti-Semitism and the defense of human rights. “Legacy” focuses on the fields of research opened up by Einstein’s work, ranging from the evolution of the Universe to technology.

Ethnic melting pot
The section on “Einstein in Brazil” narrates his trip to Latin America in 1925, exhibits personal objects, a portrait painted by Candido Portinari, and a male doll from the Carnival festivities in the State of Pernambuco, which depicts Einstein. This section also exhibits parts of Einstein’s travel diaries, including notes on his visit to Rio de Janeiro: “Delicious ethnic mixture in the streets. Portuguese, Indians and Negroes on every street corner.  Spontaneous like plants, overwhelmed by the heat. Fantastic experience. An incredible abundance of impressions in few hours,” he wrote. When walking in the Jardim Botânico botanical gardens, his comment was “The problem formulated by my brain was answered by Brazil’s luminous sky.” He was referring to the solar eclipse registered in the city of Sobral, State of Ceará, by a team of British scientists. The observation showed that the Sun’s gravity acted like a lens which deflected the light of the distant stars appearing in the sky in different positions than their original ones. This was the confirmation of what Einstein had predicted in 1916, corroborating the General Theory of Relativity.

The sections “Atoms” and “Einstein in Brazil” are exclusive to the Brazilian version of the exhibition. According to Marcelo Knobel, general coordinator of the exhibition, professor at the Gleb Wataghin Physics Institute at the State University of Campinas/Unicamp, and scientific director of Instituto Sangari, other adaptations and additions were made to the exhibition. “The interactive panels were prepared by the Brazilian team. In addition, the majority of the texts were re-written,” he stated. “The exhibition is focused not only on people who like physics, but also on people interested in knowing more about the world we live in. The idea is not to compel the visitor to dominate the concepts of physics, but rather to leave the show with even more unanswered questions and motivated to learn more”, pointed out Knobel. The scientific committee in charge of the adaptation was comprised of the following members: Carmen Pimentel Cintra do Prado, from the Physics Institute of the University of São Paulo/USP, Nelson Studart, from the Physics Department of the Federal University of São Carlos/UFSCar, and Alfredo Tomalsquim, director of the Museu de Astronomia e Ciências Afins/Mast astronomy museum in Rio de Janeiro.

Schools and groups of students can schedule guided visits with educators. The exhibition offers a free course for teachers; this course focuses on theories so that teachers can prepare the visits with their students and do classroom work. Two Learning Labs were set up on the premises. Students will be able to take part in activities related to some of the exhibition’s concepts. One of the labs is equipped with microscopes so that students will be able to view the Brownian Motion, the experimental evidence of the existence of atoms described by Einstein in 1905. The properties of light are explored in the other lab, by means of optical spectroscopy experiments.

In partnership with Instituto Sangari, Pesquisa FAPESP will organize the cultural events that will take place concurrently with the exhibition. The events will include lectures and debates with physicists and researchers from other fields. Round table discussions on “Time in Two Tempos” will be held on Saturdays. The round table will be comprised of physicists and researchers from other fields who will talk about the concept of time within their own fields of expertise. The “Beyond Relativity” events, to be held on Sundays, will include Brazilian and foreign physicists and writers specialized in physics, who will focus on little-known aspects of the life, historical context, or work of Einstein. The lectures and the debates will be held in the auditorium, next to the exhibition premises, on Saturdays at 3:00 pm and on Sundays at 11:00 am. The events program will be announced on Pesquisa Fapesp’s website as soon as it is defined. Beginning in November, Pesquisa FAPESP will include articles on the lectures and debates; the entire content of each lecture and debate will also be available on the magazine’s website.