A Conversation with My Nine-year-old Daughter about the Theory of Relativity, While She has a Bath

Her: Mommy, who is the smartest scientist?

Me: Well, a lot of people would say it is Einstein.

Her: Why?

Me: He came up with the Theory of Relativity. Do you know what that is?

Her: Nope!

Me: He said that the fastest thing in the universe is light. We don’t think of light as taking time to travel somewhere, because when we flick on a light switch, the light comes on right away. But really it takes time for light to travel. The sun is so far away, it takes 8 minutes for its light to actually get to Earth.

Her: Sometimes I see when I turn on the light it takes a flash and I can spot it.

Me: Well, probably not, but that is the idea. And then he said that speed is related to time, which was a very new idea. He said that nothing can go as fast as light – it is the fastest – but that as you start to go almost as fast as light, time slows down.

Her: So more time passes or less time passes?

Me: Um…less time passes. Say there is a guy on a racetrack driving a car…

Her: Like James from Dancing With the Stars?

Me: Yes. And he is driving very, very fast around a racetrack. And we are just sitting there watching him for like, 12 hours. At the end, you and I got 12 hours older, but maybe he only got like…

Her: Like, 1 hour older?

Me: Well, more like 11 hours 59 minutes, but yes, less. Now imagine he could drive at the speed of light…

Her: ALMOST the speed of light, because nothing can go that fast.

Me: Right! And he drives at almost the speed of light for like, 30 years. Then when he stops, you and I would be 30 years older, but he would be the same, it would be like just a few minutes had gone by for him.

Her: That would be so cool! “What are these weird computers in the sky? Why does everyone have jet boots? Why is my daughter 30 years old now?”

Me: Exactly. And then Einstein also went on to say that E=mc2. Have you heard that before?

Her: I think I saw that in Minecraft.

Me: It’s a famous math equation that says that energy and mass are related. Like, you have a bunch of stuff inside you – elements and molecules – and Einstein said we can talk about that stuff as having energy. Did you know that if we took a bag of sugar like we buy at the Superstore…

Her: Flour, or sugar?

Me: Sugar, the small bag. If we could blow apart every single molecule in that bag, it would create enough energy to power New York City for like, a month.

Her: Huh. Is that a lot of energy?

Me: Yes! It’s a ton of energy. Now if we wanted to create a bag of sugar out of nothing, how much energy do you think it would take?

Her: A LOT.

Me: Yes! And this idea led to lots of new discoveries about how the world and the universe works. The most amazing thing is that Einstein just thought all this stuff up, from his head. There’s no way to experiment on this stuff – at least, there wasn’t at that time – and no one was thinking about this kind of stuff, and out of nowhere he just figured it all out. That’s why people think he’s the smartest.

Her: Did he invent electricity?

Me: Um, no, I don’t think so.

Her: Who did that? Because they were pretty smart.

Me: I’m not sure, we would have to look it up. There was a guy named Ohm, and a guy named Volta, and a guy named Tesla…

Her: Those are funny names! Oooooooohhhhm.

Me: Yup. But also smart dudes.

Her: Mommy?

Me: Yup?

Her: Someday I am going to be the smartest scientist.

Me: You know it, baby, you know it.

5 thoughts on “A Conversation with My Nine-year-old Daughter about the Theory of Relativity, While She has a Bath

  1. Capn Planet

    Kudos on the accuracy of your explanations. I always try to be simple but accurate; it’s hard to do, and you did a great job.

    Also – “why does everyone have jet boots? Why is my daughter 30 years old now?” Hilarious, but also impressively perceptive. That one’s got a bright future…

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