Einstein's Lost Hypothesis
Is A Third-Act Twist to Nuclear Energy at Hand?
When Ernest Sternglass walked up the steps at 112 Mercer Street in April 1947, he knew it would not be a normal day. Like a church deacon summoned to meet the Pope, Sternglass—a 23-year-old researcher at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Washington, D.C.—had arrived in Princeton, N.J., at the invitation of its most renowned resident, Albert Einstein. Having completed only a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, he had written to Einstein earlier that month about the work he was doing in his lab. To his great surprise, not only did Einstein promptly write back, he requested that Sternglass visit Princeton to discuss the work in person.
What Sternglass didn’t know is that his visit to Einstein would set off a chain of correspondence, involving both an unpublished experiment (his) and an unpublished hypothesis (Einstein’s) that together may constitute one of the century’s most important disregarded pieces of science. The reason why the science was overlooked is plain enough: It was at least a generation ahead of its time. Now, more than half a century later, the work is being re-examined, with potentially profound implications for sustainable energy production. For Sternglass was to discover how to create free neutrons with household wall socket evergy levels—and Einstein was to explain why.
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Illustration by Victo Ngai