In a newly found letter, Einstein intuited the sense of birds for electromagnetism

In a newly found letter, Einstein intuited the sense of birds for electromagnetism

In a newly found letter

The letter, recently discovered, dates back to 1949. According to the brilliant scientist, the study of the behavior of birds, such as carrier pigeons, could include as yet unknown physical processes

(photo: burtamus via Pixabay) Albert Einstein, world icon of science of all time, returns today to amaze us with his insights and broad reflections, which connect different disciplines. In this case, the connection concerns physics and biology: in a letter from his 1949, recently discovered and studied by the RMIT University in Melbourne, the brilliant scientist discusses how the study of the animal world can provide very useful information and data also to physics. In particular, he writes that some sensory abilities of the birds could in the future help to better understand some physical phenomena that are still not entirely clear. And this is confirmed today, in the scientific evidence collected recently: in fact, for a few years we have known that some birds have a sort of internal magnetic compass and are guided by the magnetic field in their migrations. In short, Einstein had once again seen us along. The study (and the letter) are published in the Journal of Comparative Physiology A.

The letter found

Einstein's text is a letter in response to the engineer Glyn Davis, who disappeared in 2011. The letter, so far unknown to most people, was recently found by the widow Judith Davis, who donated it to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This university, which preserves several of Einstein's writings and which has validated the text, has also recently discovered numerous other manuscripts of the scientist.

Animals and physics are connected

We are in a period in which physical and biological sciences are at the forefront of the scientific landscape. Davis was involved in radar technologies and his interests were related to animal behavior, with particular attention to their sensory characteristics. In fact, the existence of bio-radar in bats had recently been discovered, i.e. echolocation, a physiological ability of some animals to emit ultrasounds to detect the echoes produced and study the position of some objects, such as obstacles or sources of food.

Einstein's letter to Davis refers to a meeting, which must have been significant, between Einstein and the biologist Karl von Frisch, Nobel laureate in Physiology and Medicine in 1973, who contributed to lay the foundations of ethology and which has dealt with many bees and their sensory structure of bees and has provided contributions on the behavior of anatidae, migratory water birds. Von Frisch had discovered that bees perceive ultraviolet rays and polarized light and also move based on the light. Here, a copy of the letter.

(photo: Dyer et al. 2021, J Comp Physiol A, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

What the letter says

In the letter, Einstein writes “ I can't see a way to use those results in investigations into the basis of physics, ”probably answering a question from Davis about whether new knowledge about bees could find technological applications. But he leaves open perspectives on new studies to be deepened. "It is reasonable to think - he writes - that the study of the behavior of migratory birds and carrier pigeons may one day lead to the understanding of some still unknown physical processes".

Once again, Einstein was right

With this closing sentence of the letter, the scientist indicates a path that will then find confirmation several decades later. In fact, in 2008, the first experimental evidence arrived that birds - particularly thrushes - are equipped with an internal magnetic compass that serves as an orientation guide during flight. And the same is true, we know, for other animals, including bees. The letter, therefore, is a new proof of Einstein's intuitions, of his openness to other sectors and other worlds, such as the animal one, and of his creativity in trying to put together the information available to produce new ideas applied to reality. br>

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