E=mc² is Einstein's famous formula which asserts that the energy (E) which makes up the matter in an unmoving object is equal to the square of the speed of light () times the mass (m) of that body.[1] The complete form, when applied to moving objects, is E²=(mc²)²+(pc)², where p represents momentum,[2] It is a statement that purports to relate all matter to energy. In fact, no theory has successfully unified the laws governing mass (i.e., gravity) with the laws governing light (i.e., electromagnetism), and numerous attempts to derive E=mc² from first principles have failed[3]. Political pressure, however, has since made it impossible for anyone pursuing an academic career in science to even question the validity of this nonsensical equation. Simply put, E=mc² is liberal claptrap.

In the USA, the popular Twilight Zone series featured E=mc² prominently, giving the equation greater currency with the public. The song Einstein A Go-Go by the band Landscape had a similar effect in the UK in the 1980s. But light has never been unified with matter despite more than a billion-dollars-worth of attempts, and it is likely impossible to ever do so. Biblical Scientific Foreknowledge predicts that there is no unified theory of light and matter because they were created at different times, in different ways, as described in the Book of Genesis.

Mass is a measure of an object's inertia, in other words its resistance to acceleration. In contrast, the intrinsic energy of an object (such as an atom) is a function of electrostatic charge and other non-inertial forces, having nothing to do with gravity. Declaring the object's energy to be a function of inertia rather than electrostatics is an absurd and impossible attempt to unify the forces of nature, contrary to the accepted view (as predicted by Biblical Scientific Foreknowledge) that the forces of nature have not been unified. Liberal scientists assert the formula E=mc² is not limited to nuclear reactions; it applies to chemical reactions and even to the energy stored in a compressed spring.[4]

The claim that E=mc² has never yielded anything of value and it has often been used as a redefinition of "energy" for pseudo-scientific purposes by non-scientific journals. Claims can be found not only on liberal, second-tier college websites but at those of Baylor and the MIT that the equation is used in nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons (nuclear fusion and nuclear fission) and speculations about antimatter.[5][6][7]

The Theory of Relativity has never been able to mathematically derive E=mc² from first principles[3], and a physicist observed in a peer-reviewed paper published in 2011 that "Leaving aside that it continues to be affirmed experimentally, a rigorous proof of the mass-energy equivalence is probably beyond the purview of the special theory."[8] Nevertheless, Robert Dicke - one of the most accomplished American-born physicists and experimental physicists in history - found it unlikely that the equivalence was wrong.[9]

It has been known for a long time that radiation has a mass equivalence, which was correctly derived by Henri Poincaré in 1904,[10] but the equation E=mc² makes a claim far beyond that limited circumstance:

The equality of the mass equivalent of radiation to the mass lost by a radiating body is derivable from Poincaré’s momentum of radiation (1900) and his principle of relativity (1904).

Herbert Ives, 1952

Description for the layman

Ten top physicists were asked to describe in laymen's terms E=mc²:[11]

It's something that doesn't happen in your kitchen or in everyday life.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History

Things that seem incredibly different can really be manifestations of the same underlying phenomena.

—Nima Arkani-Hamed, Theoretical Physicist, Harvard University

You can get access to parts of nature you have never been able to get access to before.

—Lene Hau, Experimental Physicist, Harvard University

It certainly is not an equation that reveals all its subtlety in the few symbols that it takes to write down.

—Brian Greene Theoretical Physicist Columbia University

History of E=mc²

The Public Broadcasting Service explained the history of E=mc² for its NOVA series as follows:[12]

Over time, physicists became used to multiplying an object's mass by the square of its velocity (mv²) to come up with a useful indicator of its energy. If the velocity of a ball or rock was 100 mph, then they knew that the energy it carried would be proportional to its mass times 100 squared. If the velocity is raised as high as it could go, to 670 million mph, it's almost as if the ultimate energy an object will contain should be revealed when you look at its mass times c squared, or its mc².

History of Experimental Verification

Because the change in mass arising from a given release of energy is so small (<math>1/c^2</math>, which 0.11x10-16 kilograms per joule), it is essentially impossible to check this equation for normal processes. For example, a flashlight battery loses about 1 picogram of mass when it discharges, and the resultant atoms from the detonation of 1 kilogram of TNT weigh 47 nanograms less than the TNT. Even if all the particles of smoke and gas could be collected reliably, the difference couldn't be detected.

Measuring the effect requires process that release vastly more energy than ordinary chemical processes. The discovery of Radium and Polonium around 1898 gave a tantalizing hint that there were processes that released far more energy than chemical processes could account for. These elements continuously released measurable heat, and also glowed in the dark.

Einstein touched on this possibility in his original 1905 paper "Does the Inertia of a Body Depend its Energy Content?".

It is not impossible that with bodies whose energy content is variable to a high degree (e.g. with radium salts) the theory may be successfully put to the test.
It would take more than a decade to develop an understanding of the nuclear process involved. The first thing that was required was accurate knowledge of atomic weights.

Atomic weights of the various elements were first measured, with accuracy of a few decimal places, by J. J. Berzelius in the late 1820's. This required extremely painstaking (for the time) measurements. The figures were refined to even more accuracy by J. A. R. Newlands in the 1860's. The values were accurate enough to clearly show the rather interesting property that the atomic weights were nearly integers, but not exactly so. The reason for this would turn out to be partly because of different isotopes (discovered by Frederick Soddy in 1913) and partly because of E=mc2.

In 1907 Rutherford determined that the "alpha" radiation from Radium was Helium. In 1911 he formulated the theory of the nucleus. In 1919 he demonstrated that nuclear transmutations could take place, such as

<math>{}_7^{14}\mathrm{N}\, +\, {}_2^4\mathrm{He}\,\rightarrow\, {}_8^{17}\mathrm{O}\, +\, {}_1^1\mathrm{H}</math>

The discovery of Radon, and much further investigation, revealed that the behavior of Radium was

<math>{}_{88}^{226}\mathrm{Ra}\,\rightarrow\, {}_{86}^{222}\mathrm{Rn}\, +\, {}_2^4\mathrm{He}</math>


<math>{}_{86}^{222}\mathrm{Rn}\,\rightarrow\, {}_{84}^{218}\mathrm{Po}\, +\, {}_2^4\mathrm{He}</math>

Accurate ways of measuring speed of a charged particle, by deflecting it in a magnetic field, had been developed by then, so that, by very painstaking observation and measurement, it was determined that the first alpha particle (Helium nucleus) had an energy of 4.78 MeV and the second an energy of 5.49 Mev. This confirmed E=mc2 up to the accuracy of the measurements. The equation, along with knowledge of isotope mixes, now explained why the atomic weights appearing in the periodic table were nearly integers, but not exactly so.

Around 1925, the development of the mass spectrograph, by Francis Aston, made it possible to measure atomic weights to extreme precision.

The 1932 Cockcroft-Walton experiment, described in more detail below, brought more publicity to the equation by confirming it, with reasonable accuracy, for an artificially induced nuclear reaction. (Confirming E=mc2 was not a goal of the experiment; it was an incidental consequence.)

In the decades since, nuclear transmutations have been performed, in particle accelerators, all over the periodic table, observing in detail the properties of various isotopes. These have confirmed E=mc2 with great precision. Perhaps the most precise test, by Rainville et. al.[13], confirmed the equation to an accuracy of a few parts per million.

Claims of experimental verification

In 1932 English physicist John Cockcroft and Irish physicist Ernest Walton performed the first artificial nuclear transmutation of nuclei, for which they were awarded the 1951 Nobel Prize in physics[14]. "their pioneer work on the transmutation of atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles"[15] Like all of the very famous experiments of modern physics, this experiment has been replicated, with modern equipment, hundreds of times, all around the world.

While verifying E=mc² was not the goal of the experiment (the equation had already been known and understood for many years), and neither the Nobel Committee nor the prize recipients made any claim to that effect, analysis of the experiment does in fact verify the equation.

They bombarded Lithium atoms with protons having a kinetic energy less than 1 MeV. The result were two (slightly less heavy) alpha particles, for which the kinetic energy was measured as 17.3 MeV

<math>{}_3^7\mathrm{Li}\, +\, {}_1^1\mathrm{H}\,\rightarrow\,2\, {}_2^4\mathrm{He}</math>

The mass of the particles on the left hand side is 8.0263 amu, the mass on the right hand side only 8.0077 amu.[16] The difference between this masses is .00186 amu, which results in the following back-of-an-envelope calculation:

<math>0.00186\,\mathrm{amu} \cdot c^2 = 0.0186 \cdot 1.66 \cdot 10^{-27}\,\mathrm{kg}\cdot\left(3\cdot10^8\,\mathrm{\frac{m}{s}}\right)^2</math>
<math>\approx\,2.79\cdot 10^{-12} \,\mathrm{kg}\mathrm{\frac{m^2}{s^2}}</math>
<math>\approx \,17.3\,\mathrm{MeV}</math>

Accurate measurements and detailed calculations allowed for verifying the theoretical values with an accuracy of ±0.5%. This was the first time a nucleus was artificially split, and thereby the first transmutation of elements using accelerated particles:

Some claim that the best empirical verification of E=mc2 was done in 2005 by Simon Rainville et al., as published in Nature (which is not a leading physics journal).[13] The authors state in their article in Nature magazine that "Einstein's relationship is separately confirmed in two tests, which yield a combined result of 1−Δmc²/E=(−1.4±4.4)×10−7, indicating that it holds to a level of at least 0.00004%. To our knowledge, this is the most precise direct test of the famous equation yet described."

A Famous Example -- Nuclear Fission of Uranium

For most types of physical interactions, the masses of the initial reactants and of the final products match so closely that it is essentially impossible to measure any difference. But for nuclear reactions, the difference is measurable. That difference is related to the energy absorbed or released, described by the equation E=mc². (The equation applies to all interactions; the fact that nuclear interactions are the only ones for which the mass difference is measurable has led people to believe, wrongly, that E=mc² applies only to nuclear interactions.)

The Theory of Relativity played no role in this work, but proponents later tried to retrofit the theory to the data in order to explain the explain the observed mass changes.[17] Here is the most famous example of the mass change.

Nuclear fission, which is the basis for nuclear energy, was discovered in experiments by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman, and analyzed by Lise Meitner, in 1938.

There are a great number of decay paths of Uranium fission that figured in this experiment. The result element that most caught their attention was Barium, because it was chemically related to the Radium that they were expecting. One of the fission paths may have been this:

235U → 140Xe + 91Sr + 4n

(The Xenon decayed within about a minute to 140Ba. They were searching for the chemical signature of Barium.)

The masses of the particles are:

Substance 235U 140Xe 91Sr 4 neutrons
Number of protons 92 54 38 0
Number of neutrons 235 140 91 4
Number of electrons 92 54 38 0
Mass 235.04393 139.92164 90.910203 4.03466

The mass of the Uranium atom is 235.04393, and the sum of the masses of the products is 234.866503. The difference is .177427 amu, or, using the E=mc² equation, 165 million electron volts. (The generally accepted value for the total energy released by Uranium fission, including secondary decays, is about 200 million electron volts.)

The insight that the conversion from Uranium to Barium was caused by complete fission of the atom was made by Lise Meitner in December, 1938. She had the approximate "mass defect" quantities memorized, and so she worked out in her head, using the E=mc² equation, that there would be this enormous release of energy. This release was observed shortly thereafter, and the result is nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

A Topical Example: Speed of Extremely Energetic Neutrinos

Here is another example of the use of this formula in physics calculations. Recently there has been quite a controversy over whether neutrinos were observed traveling at a speed faster than light. Relativity doesn't allow that, and, since neutrinos have nonzero (but incredibly tiny) mass, they aren't even supposed to travel at the speed of light. This very issue came up on the Talk:Main_Page#Neutrinos. The speeds under discussion were calculated by the use of E=mc2.

The mass of a neutrino is about 0.44x10-36kilograms. (Normally all of these things are measured in more convenient units such as Giga-electron-Volts, but that makes implicit use of E=mc2. If we don't accept that, we have to do the calculations under classical physics, using SI (meter/kilogram/second) units.) The neutrinos were accelerated to an energy of about 17GeV, or .27x10-8Joules. Using the classical formula <math>\mathrm{E} = \frac{1}{2}mv^2</math>, we get v=110x1012meters per second. This is about 370,000 times the speed of light. However, the classical formula breaks down at speeds close to <math>c</math>, and indeed, as the speed of a massive object approaches <math>c</math>, the object's kinetic energy approaches <math>+\infty</math>.

Several scientists have gone on record stating that the neutrinos, which have mass, travel at precisely the speed of light. If true, this disproves the Theory of Relativity and the claim that E=mc2. However, it is more likely that those scientists are using language inaccurately. It is impossible to measure the speed of neutrinos precisely. What is meant is the difference between the speed of light and the speed of the neutrinos is too small to measure.

Deducing the Equation From Empirical Observation

While the equation was historically developed on theoretical grounds as an inevitable consequence of special relativity, it is possible to deduce it purely from empirical observation.

So, for the purposes of this section, imagine that one is in the era of "classical physics"; prior to 1900 or so. Relativity has not been invented, but, inexplicably, nuclear physics has. Imagine that the phenomena of radioactivity and nuclear fission have been observed, without any knowledge of relativity.

A well-accepted physical law of classical physics was the law of conservation of mass. This was not easy to deduce. It required careful analysis of such phenomena as combustion, in the 1700's, to eliminate the various confounding sub-phenomena that made the law difficult to see. But, by 1900, the law was well established:

  • In all interactions, mass is precisely conserved.

For example, the mass of a TNT molecule is 227.1311 Daltons, or 227.1311 g/mol, which is, for all practical purposes, the same as the mass of its constituent Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, and Oxygen atoms. It is essentially impossible to measure the difference. The principle of conservation of mass is upheld.

But when nuclear phenomena are discovered, we notice something different. The masses of the result particles after an event (e.g. alpha decay, nuclear fission, or artificial transmutation) is measurably less than the masses of the original particle(s). With the invention of the mass spectrometer around 1920, it became possible to measure atomic weights of various isotopes with great precision.

Radium-226 decays into Radon-222 by emission of an alpha particle with an energy of 4.78 MeV.

1 kg of Radium-226 = <math>\frac{6.022 \times 10^{23}}{226.0254}</math> atoms. (The numerator is Avogadro's number, and the denominator is the atomic weight of Radium-226.) This is 2.6643647 * 1024 atoms.

That number of Radon-222 atoms has mass .98226836 kg. That number of alpha particles has mass .01770863 kg. The mass lost is .00002301 kg.

Each emitted alpha particle has energy of 4.78 MeV, or 4.78 * .1602 * 10-18 Joules. The total alpha energy from the decay of 1 kg of radium is 2.04 * 1012 Joules.

Also, Radon-222 decays into Polonium-218 by emission of an alpha particle with an energy of 5.49 MeV.

1 kg of Radon-222 = <math>\frac{6.022 \times 10^{23}}{222.0176}</math> atoms. This is 2.7124611 * 1024 atoms.

That number of Polonium-218 atoms has mass .98194467 kg. That number of alpha particles has mass .01802830 kg.

The mass lost is .00002703 kg.

Each emitted alpha particle has energy of 5.49 MeV. The total alpha energy from the decay of 1 kg of polonium is 2.39 * 1012 Joules.

It looks as thought we have to rewrite the law of conservation of mass:

  • In all "ordinary" interactions, mass is precisely conserved.
  • In nuclear interactions, there is a small but measurable loss of mass.
By the way, we can clearly see that atomic weights of pure isotopes are not integers, and that it has something to do with the energy released by nuclear disintegration. In retrospect, the formula E=mc² explains the non-integer character of atomic weights.

Making special cases like this is unsatisfactory, of course.

We do this for a few other interactions, including the explosion of TNT. This would include the Lithium-plus-Hydrogen and Uranium fission phenomena described above. We won't bother with the details. As observational scientists, we look for patterns in the behavior of nature. We make a table:

interaction energy released per kg, Joules mass lost per kg of original substance, kg
explosion of TNT 4.184 * 106 seems to be zero
alpha decay of Ra-226 2.04 * 1012 .00002301 kg
alpha decay of Rn-222 2.39 * 1012 .00002703 kg

We plot these, and a few others, not shown, on graph paper, and find to our amazement that the relationship is linear.

For Ra, m/E = .112794118 E-16 For Po, m/E = .113096234 E-16

If this is linear, the mass defect for TNT would have been .47 * 10-10. We couldn't possibly have measured this.

So we can rewrite the rule for conservation of mass in a more satisfactory way:

  • In all interactions, there is a loss of mass, equal to about .113 * 10-16 kg per Joule of energy released.

What we thought was exact conservation is just very nearly exact, and we hadn't been able to measure it before.

But maybe there's more. This constant has dimensions of kilograms per Joule. From high-school physics, we know that that is seconds squared divided by meters squared. That is, it is the reciprocal of the square of a velocity. We calculate that velocity. It is about 2.97 * 108 meters per second. Very close to the speed of light! Very interesting! (The calculations above were not extremely precise. The formula has been verified with great precision, but not here.)

We don't understand why (that will have to wait for the invention of relativity), but we can formulate a hypothesis:

  • In all interactions, there is a loss of mass, equal to <math>\frac{1}{c^2}</math> times the amount of energy released.

We don't have to give the units any more, since everything is now dimensionally correct.

There is a very interesting analogy with the discovery of Maxwell's Equations. Maxwell found an interesting relationship involving the fundamental constants <math>\epsilon\,</math> and <math>\mu\,</math> appearing in his equations. Specifically, <math>\epsilon\mu\,</math> has the dimensions of seconds squared divided by meters squared, and that:
<math>\frac{1}{\epsilon\mu} = c^2</math>
where "c" was the known velocity of light. He also showed that his equations predict electromagnetic waves, propagating at that speed.

See also

Five lectures at Wikiversity. The 4th one derives the formula:


  1. The implausible equation claims that "energy and mass are linked in the most famous relationship in physics: E = mc². (The energy content of a body is equal to the mass of the body times the speed of light squared.)" Einstein: Genius Among Geniuses - PBS's NOVA
  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnMIhxWRGNw
  3. 3.0 3.1 Five lectures at Wikiversity. The 4th one derives the formula:
  4. http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/phy99/phy99140.htm
  5. John D. Norton Einstein for everyone - E=mc², Department of History and Philosophy of Science University of Pittsburgh
  6. Rod Nave HpyerPhysics - Relativistic Energy, Georgia State University
  7. Peter Tyson The Legacy of E=mc² October 11, 2005. PBS NOVA.
  8. Eugene Hecht: How Einstein confirmed E0=mc², American Journal of Physics, Volume 79, Issue 6, pp. 591-600 (2011)
  9. R. H. Dicke "The Theoretical Significance of Experimental Relativity", Gordon and Breach, 1964
  10. Herbert E. Ives Derivation of the Mass-Energy Relation, JOSA, Vol. 42, Issue 8, pp. 540-543 (1952)
  11. Lexi Krock, David Levin (editors) E=mc² explained, June, 2005. PBS NOVA
  12. David Bodanis Ancestors of E=mc², Nov 10, 2005, NOVA
  13. 13.0 13.1 http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v438/n7071/full/4381096a.html Nature 438, 1096-1097 (22 December 2005)] doi:10.1038/4381096a; Published online 21 December 2005
  14. John D. Cockroft Experiments on the interaction of high-speed nucleons with atomic nuclei, Nobel Lecture, Dec 11, 1951
  15. Nobel Prize Organization
  16. Gerard Piel The age of science: what scientists learned in the 20th century, Basic Books, 2001, p. 144-145
  17. Actually, the formula E=mc2 was published in 1905, and has not changed since then. Fission of Uranium was discovered in 1938. It is not possible that the equation was retrofitted to explain this discovery.