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THE GUARDIAN
THE OBSERVER
Einstein's E=mc^2 'was Italian's idea'
Rory Carroll in Rome
Thursday November 11, 1999
The mathematical equation that
ushered in the atomic age was
discovered by an unknown Italian
dilettante two years before Albert
Einstein used it in developing the
theory of relativity, it was claimed
yesterday.
Olinto De Pretto, an industrialist
from Vicenza, published the
equation E=mc^2 in a scientific
magazine, Atte, in 1903, said
Umberto Bartocci, a mathematical
historian.
Einstein allegedly used De Pretto's
insight in a major paper published
in 1905, but De Pretto was never
acclaimed, said Professor Bartocci
of the University of Perugia.
De Pretto had stumbled on the
equation, but not the theory of
relativity, while speculating about
ether in the life of the universe, said
Prof Bartocci. It was republished in
1904 by Veneto's Royal Science
Institute, but the equation's
significance was not understood.
A Swiss Italian named Michele
Besso alerted Einstein to the
research and in 1905 Einstein
published his own work, said Prof
Bartocci. It took years for his
breakthrough to be grasped. When
the penny finally dropped, De
Pretto's contribution was
overlooked while Einstein went on
to become the century's most
famous scientist. De Pretto died in
1921.
"De Pretto did not discover
relativity but there is no doubt that
he was the first to use the equation.
That is hugely significant. I also
believe, though it's impossible to
prove, that Einstein used De
Pretto's research," said Prof
Bartocci, who has written a book
on the subject.
Einstein's theory held that time and
motion are relative to the observer
if the speed of light is constant and
if all natural laws are the same. A
footnote established the
equivalence of mass and energy,
according to which the energy (E)
of a quantity of matter (m) is equal
to the product of the mass and the
square of the velocity of light (c).
Now known as: E=mc^2 .
The influence of work by other
physicists on Einstein's theory is
also controversial. A German,
David Hilbert, is thought by some to
have been decisive.
Edmund Robertson, professor of
mathematics at St Andrew's
University, said: "An awful lot of
mathematics was done by people
who have never been credited -
Arabs in the middle ages, for
example. Einstein may have got the
idea from someone else, but ideas
come from all sorts of places.
"De Pretto deserves credit if his
contribution can be proven. Even
so, it should not detract from
Einstein."
http://www.newsunlimited.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,102274,00.html