Einstein's Blackboard

Living in Oxford, I am surrounded by wonderful sites and objects. Of course, when you live in a place, you don’t often take the opportunity to visit in the same way as you do when you are on vacation, and it is easy to take for granted the wonderful treasures that you have nearby. So writing these blogs post will give me the perfect excuse to explore a few of the famous and not so famous sites of Oxford and share my experiences with you!

Christ Church College

Christ Church College

Einstein arrived in Oxford in 1931, fleeing Nazi Germany, and took up an academic post at Christ Church College, one of the University’s constituent colleges, now well-known as a location for the Harry Potter films! By that time he was already a superstar. When he arrived in Oxford, he was invited to give a series of 3 lectures at Rhodes House, home of the famous Rhodes Scholarships. His first lecture was on relativity, the second on cosmology and the third on unified field theory. 

During the second lecture, Einstein wrote on two blackboards and following that lecture these blackboards were taken directly to Oxford’s Museum of the History of Science, where one of them can still be viewed today. 

Museum of the History of Science

Museum of the History of Science

Of course I had heard of the famous blackboard, and I had even visited the Museum of the History of Science with my two children, who had been taking part in a workshop on tessellation. We had not noticed the blackboard, so interested had we been in the workshop! So we took the opportunity to go on a visit specifically to view it. Arriving at the museum, we asked at the desk where it could be found. With a resigned smile (this must be a question that comes up a lot), the museum attendant explained it was in the basement. We wandered downstairs and began a search. It was not obviously positioned, but eventually we found it on the wall at one end, very unassuming.

We stood and looked at it for a while, imagining the great man giving his lecture and exclaiming that it was amazing that Einstein’s hand had actually written those equations. A few others came and stood alongside us and we paused in silence, almost as if we were revering a holy object. 

Einstein's Blackboard

Einstein's Blackboard

Having done some research, I believe that these equations were significant because they demonstrate a theory that Einstein had published just a week or so earlier and, although I lack knowledge in this area, this paper related to his prediction of the universe expanding and contracting over time, known as the Friedman-Einstein model. Interestingly, I read that these equations contain a systematic error that Einstein later corrected in 1945.

Stories of Einstein actually pop up all over Oxford. Last week I went to another Oxford College, Lady Margaret Hall, to hear an interview with the great pianist Alfred Brendel and a story was told that the piano to be found in the lecture theatre where we were sitting had been used by a music ensemble in which Einstein took part as a violinist. So the piano’s claim to fame was that it had played with Einstein!

Below is Dr Jim Bennett, the former director of the Museum of the History of Science, explaining about Einstein’s blackboard. Incidentally, he also mentions some of the other fascinating objects housed in the museum: Queen Elizabeth I’s astrolabe and IK Brunel’s sextent.

-Helen Moss, Design & Marketing Manager at LogicPrep

Helen has been part of the LogicPrep team since 2008, in various roles: she is a graphic designer (formerly a Communications Designer at Oxford University), and currently heads up LogicPrep’s software project, designs the LogicPrep books and works on LogicPrep’s database of proprietary questions. Passionate about using technology effectively in education, she has been training in user experience design and is excited to be creating technology that enhances the test preparation experience. 
Helen is a Brit and, after eight years living in the south of France, is now back in the UK and living in Oxford. When not sitting at her desk working remotely, Helen is probably playing the piano, knitting, designing a new type-face, volunteering for Amnesty International as a translator, walking her dog (a long-haired chihuahua, Max, who thinks he’s a cat) or looking after her kids… but most probably doing all at the same time!